February 26, 2014 - By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- Before this past week, Andy Phillips had only ever won one thing in his life— a Teddy bear when he was a little boy.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, he learned he was getting something infinitely more valuable— iPads for every single student at Harvey Swanson Elementary, where he is principal.
"This is so much better than the Teddy bear," said Phillips on Thursday. "This is amazing, a lucky thing... I can't stop shaking."
Harvey Swanson literally has hit the jackpot as one of 14 schools across the state selected to receive part of a $5 million grant distributed by the Genesee Intermediate School District through the Whole School Technology Transformation, a pilot program by the Michigan Department of Education.
According to MDE, the Whole School Technology Transformation program allows the state to provide full-on digital access for teachers and students in schools, creating learning laboratories that take the next step in advancing teaching and learning through the effective use of technology. The funding will allow schools to explore how digital environments empower teachers, engage students, and bolster outcomes.
Harvey Swanson, along with schools in districts including Allegan, Battle Creek, Bentley, Benton Harbor, Charlevoix, Dexter, Lake City, Manton, Meridian, Pentwater, Schoolcraft, Swan Valley and Webberville, were selected randomly as recipients, a sampling of schools that had differing socioeconomic status, student populations, grade level arrangements, rural vs. urban, and located throughout the state.
"The results of this pilot program will lead to better public policy," State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said in a statement. "School districts also will have better information to support implementing their own innovations at the school and classroom level, to see what works best for students and teachers."
Phillips could not have been more surprised when he and representatives from the other 13 schools were called to a meeting at the GISD in Flint on Tuesday. Brandon officials had applied for what they knew was a technology grant in the fall, but Phillips said no one knew it had the possibility of being "this huge."
"We thought there was a possibility we might get money to build technology infrastructure, we didn't know the impact, there was no indication it would be this amazing," said Phillips. "It's a windfall and luck of the draw."
Selected schools were able to choose on Tuesday the one-to-one devices they would like to receive. Some of the choices were Droid tablets or Chromebooks, but Phillips decided on Apple iPads, due to the developmental appropriateness for elementary school students, as well as Harvey Swanson students and teachers' familiarity with the devices. Harvey Swanson, as well as Oakwood Elementary, already have 40 of the devices at each school as a result of Title I funding. They are currently investigating whether they can transfer Harvey Swanson's 40 existing iPads to Oakwood to further benefit that school when the new ones come in September for approximately 400 Harvey Swanson students, as well as one for each teacher.
"Everyone wants iPads right now, it's the thing in education," Phillips said. "All of our iPads are checked out and used everyday. We use them in after school programs, summer program, we still use them for games and skill development, but now we are doing coding with them, computer programming at the level of the student."
Even Kindergarteners come to school knowing how to use touch-screen devices, he notes, and now all the students will have them and be able to take them home. He is excited about the possibilities, but knows also it will be a tremendous amount of work. Teachers next year, he said, will work harder than they ever have in their careers.
"This will transform how we teach— it's a total shift in how we educate each child," said Phillips. "The day after Labor Day, on the first day of school it will be out of this world.
There are things we want to do so this program can sustain itself for the life of these iPads. Eventually, they will be obsolete, but we want to put stuff that will last as long as these are relevant. This isn't a flash in the pan, this is something that will be here for years and years."
No longer will there be a concern about not all students having the same access to technology at home. All Harvey Swanson students will have iPads in their backpacks, and teachers will be able to communicate with parents through them, as well as share with students projections from iPads to interactive whiteboards.
"I hope our community is excited about this, what we are doing here is going to be beyond exciting," said Phillips.
"We are watching iPads go from a device to a way of learning. This is the way of the world."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville