After years of waiting, Wilder celebrates iPad rollout

WILDER — Several students giggled and at least one gasped when high school English teacher Charles Abel told them how their new iPads would transform education.

“As of tomorrow, when you come into class, you will no longer need paper or pencils,” Abel told them. “From this moment forward, we will be working through this (iPad).”

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Students began testing out iPads at Wilder Middle School-High School Wednesday.

Students, educators and parents in Wilder have been waiting for years for the type of transformation Abel described. The moment finally arrived Wednesday, when each of Wilder’s 450 K-12 students received an iPad courtesy of an Apple ConnectED grant and a partnership with the White House.

Under the program, Apple pledged $100 million and is donating an iPad to every student in 114 underserved school districts across the country.

Wilder Superintendent Jeff Dillon has been pushing for years to put computing devices into his students’ hands. The district missed out on the state’s technology pilot program grants, but finally cashed in through the ConnectED grants, a rollout process that dates back at least to July 2014.

“We have to look beyond the traditional classroom with these devices,” Dillon told the students during a morning assembly. “We weren’t just going to put these devices in your hands and replace the textbooks with these devices. We want different and new opportunities for you.”

Wilder, located in Canyon County, is one of Idaho’s poorest districts. During 2014-15, almost 94 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. According to student surveys, up to 60 percent of the district’s families do not have access to home Internet.

For the rest of this year, Dillon and middle school-high school principal Tim Jensen want students to become comfortable with the new devices.

But when the first bell rings next fall, it’s full speed ahead. Dillon said the devices are a major component to Wilder’s application to test a mastery-based system of education — where students move through school based on subject knowledge, not seat time. On Tuesday, just 24 hours before the iPad rollout, state officials said Wilder was one of 19 Idaho schools or districts to apply for the mastery pilot program.

Dillon and Jensen say the devices will allow students to learn at their own pace. They also plan to use the devices to unlock the potential of several new academic programs, including a 3D lab, an animation studio and drone-based community agriculture program. All will be housed within the district.

Dillon and Jensen also plan to move away from letter grades, put an end to class periods, change educators’ work title from “teachers” to “mentors” and move toward project-based learning.

“One of the biggest problems Wilder had was always been being behind on money and our size and economy,” Abel said. “That’s always meant we’ve had out-of-date textbooks or not enough (classroom materials) and that’s made students suffer. Now, we’re giving them the entire world.”

Senior Mikayla Lincoln was excited to receive her iPad. She bragged about how it came preloaded with a NASA app, which she plans to reference and cite when she travels to Washington, D.C., to speak to NASA about climate change during at a 4-H convention.

Although Lincoln graduates this year, she predicts students at Wilder will embrace the iPads.

“The program is really going to grow and expand,” Lincoln said. “In the next few years every student will be really integrated in using them and using them to the best of their ability.”

To say Wednesday’s rollout was the biggest event in town would be an understatement. As guests pulled into Wilder that morning, the marquee above a local business was updated to welcome Gov. Butch Otter and the delegation from Apple.

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Apple VP of Education John Couch, Gov. Butch Otter and Wilder Superintendent Jeff Dillon watch as students receive their iPads Wednesday.

Inside the packed Wilder gymnasium, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls and Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, mingled with educators. STEM Action Center Director Angela Hemingway, Melba superintendent Andy Grover, Rob Winslow from the Idaho Association of School Administrators and several representatives from Otter’s office and the State Department of Education also turned out.

Even with the extra crowd, the gym was awash in a sea of purple as teachers and students dressed up in school colors.

Under Apple’s ConnectED program, Wilder Middle School-High School and Wilder Elementary were the only two Idaho schools receiving iPads. That fact wasn’t lost on Otter, or the Wilder residents who seemed to embrace their moment in the limelight.

“Do well with it and I know you will because, Wilder, all Idaho eyes are on you,” Otter said.