Free computer tablets for all in five new Utah 'Smart Schools'
A tablet for each student, swift Wi-Fi and more classroom computers are headed to five selected Utah schools this fall innovation that may help the state cope with growing class sizes.
Myton Elementary, Helper Junior High and Rocky Mountain Middle School in Heber City, plus charter schools Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo and the new Utah Career Path High School in Kaysville, were approved Wednesday as Utah's newest "smart schools."
They'll share more than $2 million in funding to boost the use of technology in their classrooms.
At Provo's Dixon Middle School, one of three initial schools in the program last year, some teachers report that iPads and smart boards help them effectively lead a class of 40 students with the help of an aide, said Principal Jarod Sites.
"No teacher wants to be in line for" bigger class sizes, Sites said, but a digital classroom "flows so much better," with fewer students losing focus or acting out.
The digital tools engaged students more, Sites said, and test scores bumped up slightly.
But the school is still adjusting to its technology makeover. Some teachers unfamiliar with the tablets hesitated to use them in class. And Sites would like to see more students using the devices to create projects instead of simply reading image files.
Technology support costs have climbed slightly, he added, though textbook and paper expenses dropped.
The Smart School Technology Program launched last year with $3 million in funding to foster electronic learning and provide iPads to all students at Dixon, North Sevier High and Gunnison Valley Elementary. Along with teacher training, they also received more desktop computers, wireless networks and other infrastructure, audio systems and high-definition TVs for classrooms.
Earlier this year, lawmakers approved $2.4 million for the second round of schools, selected and approved Wednesday by the state Board of Education. About $120,000 will be used to evaluate the schools' progress, said Brenda Hales, deputy superintendent.
The newly added schools also were required to come up with matching funds, Hales explained.
The program's cost was estimated at $1,490 per student, and the state funding will cover half of that expense for 3,060 seats, she said. The schools have to raise the other half in matching funds.
The first five schools, with 1,675 seats, had their funding arranged, and the board's approval lets them get started before school starts this fall, Hales said.
But there's state funding for another 1,385 seats, she added. Five more selected and interested schools are still working on finding matching funds, and may yet participate.
Those schools are the new Corner Canyon High School in the Canyons School District, opening next month; Century Elementary in the Box Elder School District; Gunnison Valley High School in the South Sanpete School District; Neil Armstrong Academy, opening next month in the Granite School District; and Cook Elementary in the Davis School District.
iSchool Campus, which provided the equipment and training for the first three schools, was selected by an independent committee to also supply this year's schools. The Governor's Office of Economic Development Board of Directors ratified the choice and awarded the contract earlier this month.
At North Sevier High School, teachers are gearing up for its second year of digital learning. "It is unreal, the difference that it makes," said Principal Jill Porter.
The new devices have energized math classes, cut down on paper use and sped up the previously sluggish Internet connection, Porter said.
But math classrooms took months to connect to Wi-Fi. And converting traditional lessons to smart boards and tablets daunted teachers at first.
The district is still working on setting up Google Docs for students to connect to e-pals worldwide. But students are creating podcasts and checking out digital library books with little more than a swipe of a finger.
The new connections and gadgets did not immediately improve test scores or attendance, Porter said, but more students turned in their digital homework than the year before. In math classes, she said, students presented more frequently and willingly in front of the room and in group exercises.
And at year's end, she said, each iPad came back in.
Utah's new Smart Schools
Utah Career Path High School in Kaysville, charter school, 175 projected participating students
Helper Jr. High in Helper, Carbon School District, 192
Myton Elementary in Myton, Duchesne School District, 164
Rocky Mountain Middle School in Heber City, Wasatch School District, 859
Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo, charter school, 285 on upper campus, grades 7-12