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Detroit area districts plug into digital era with iPads, laptops
The Detroit News
By: Shawn Lewis
September 03, 2013

Skye Miller will step over the threshold of a new school today and enter the high-tech era.

She’s a student at the Michigan Technical Academy, whose message reverberates in Metro Detroit schools that are easing away from textbooks: There’s an app for that.

The northwest Detroit charter school, established in 1995, is supplying about 1,100 of its kindergarten to eighth-grade students with iPads, at a cost of $600,000, as part of its “One to One iPad” program, Superintendent Jeremy Gillium said.

Skye, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, said she is excited about getting the tablet she’ll use for math, science, spelling and other courses.

“I love the iPad because you don’t have to use paper and pencils, and you won’t forget what the teacher says in the classroom,” she said.

Other schools are going digital, too.

Utica Community Schools is introducing 1,200 pieces of technology, including new laptops, iPads and whiteboards, for first-graders. The cost is about $2 million for the 25 elementary schools, funded through a recent bond issue.

The Macomb County district, the state’s second largest, also offers a free app that links parents and students to its UCS Mobile site, which offers regular school updates, lunch menus, athletic results and other information.

“Combined with our other social media sites, our parents and community can get the news they need directly from their phone or tablet,” Utica superintendent Christine Johns said.

In the classroom, Johns said district educators believe technology can help boost student performance. “For instance, our kindergarten students recently demonstrated a high level of achievement growth in a restructured program that uses technology to challenge them at their own pace, and through their own learning styles,” she said.

Given that success, the district is continuing the program for nearly 4,000 kindergartners this year and expanding it to about 2,000 first-graders.

At the Michigan Technical Academy, teachers were trained on using the iPad last month. They will be able to record their voices assigning homework to students, and can individualize those assignments, for students to play when they get home.

“Now, parents will be able to sit down next to their children and hear the teacher’s voice telling them what is expected,” said Rashida Stephens, 36, an instructional technology coordinator who trained the teachers.

Students entering their classrooms can scan a QR (quick response) code on each door to hear an introductory greeting from their teachers. In class, they’ll be able to scan a flag, for example, to hear the correct way to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Skye’s mother, Mona Miller, whose son, fifth-grader Mekhi Miller, 11, also will attend the school, described it as a “great program.”

“Now they’ll have a chance to get ahead like in the suburban schools,” the mother said. “We tend to miss out on that in the city.”

Gillium expressed a similar sentiment.

“There’s a digital divide between advantaged districts and families, and economically disadvantaged districts and families,” he said.

First-grade teacher Chanda Levene, 37, of Sterling Heights was in the training class taught by Stephens. She was learning how to use the iPad for the first time.

“I’m excited about all the things we can do, all that the kids can do and how it will expand the classroom beyond these walls,” said Levene. “Students can continue learning on a deeper level. I’m trying to get all my questions in now so I’ll be comfortable with what I’m doing.”
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Detroit area districts plug into digital era with iPads, laptops