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Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017
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Pasco students tapping into technology

WESLEY CHAPEL - Alexus Rodriguez's fingers glided across the iPad screen and she tapped on a virtual globe. India came into focus. Another tap supplied the Indian national anthem. Alexus and her high school education via the iPad were off and running. The 14-year-old is one of 25 freshmen at Wiregrass Ranch High School who are helping launch an iPad initiative that could spread to include all Wiregrass Ranch students and other Pasco County schools.
They gathered today for a half day of training with their teachers. For the next school year, which begins Monday, the 25 students won't use textbooks. The iPads – computers in tablet form – will serve as substitutes as they study biology, English, geometry and Advanced Placement human geography. "It's such an advantage for them," biology teacher Kristin Mahoney said. "Instead of multiple textbooks and multiple notebooks, they have one compact tool." The school had no shortage of interested incoming freshmen when it announced the plan. About 75 applied, said Assistant Principal Robyn White, who is overseeing the program. "I have alternates on a waiting list calling every day," she said. Alexus, who has an iPad at home, was excited about a style of learning that focuses so heavily on technology. "I thought it was a very good opportunity to help me in the future," she said. Mahoney is one of four teachers chosen to launch the pilot program. The others are: Kim Crook, English; Amanda Yingling, geometry; and Paul Vassak, AP human geography. The goal is to have all students using iPads in lieu of textbooks. "Technology is the future," White said. "It's what kids use each and every day." White also was issued an iPad, so in all the school bought 30 iPads at $499 each. Principal Ray Bonti said the cost essentially evens out. "They were going to get $500 worth of textbooks anyway," he said. Each iPad comes with 60 applications, 13 of which were bought through a volume-purchasing plan that cost a total of $1,400. Students, parents and the community will need to adjust to the shift from printed textbooks to technology-based learning, Bonti said. "I think this is going to become the norm in a few years," he said. Wiregrass Ranch High, which opened in the 2006-07 school year, prides itself as a district leader in incorporating technology into the classroom. Bonti makes it a point to hire teachers comfortable with that philosophy. Vassak made sure the students understand they are making a bit of education history in Pasco. He said the freshmen and their teachers are embarking on a voyage of discovery that he metaphorically likened to Columbus and his crew setting out for the New World. "I've never felt more cutting edge than right now," Vassak said. "We're putting away the paper and pencil and going digital." That doesn't mean it will all be smooth sailing – perseverance will be one of the group's watchwords. "We'll see where we land at the end of the year," he said. With opportunity comes responsibility. The students had to purchase insurance to cover the iPads against theft, damage or loss. They also agreed in writing that they wouldn't load any additional apps onto the iPads. Parents have some obligations, too. They must attend quarterly meetings with school staff to discuss how the iPad is being used at home. Tyler Wood, 14, was among the students who had no experience with iPads before the training session. "I'm learning a lot," he said. "It's pretty cool." The iPad was also a new experience for Jasmine Myers, 14, but she caught on quickly, and by mid-morning maneuvered confidently through the apps. Plus, if she stumbled she could turn to the iPad-savvy students on either side of her. "I have help," Jasmine said. "I'm learning."

rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7065

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