Technology grant allows SISD 7th graders to join iPad initiative

During the Wednesday afternoon faculty meeting at Sweetwater Middle School, the teachers were given some great news that will once again make a huge impact at SMS.The seventh graders are getting iPads.The students were given the great news as well on Thursday, but this opportunity will take effect this school year--an entire year earlier than anticipated. SISD (Sweetwater Independent School District) will be able to make this happen thanks to a $99,040 technology grant, which was obtained following an application submitted by Mike Marlett, the district's Director of Educational Technology.The Technology Lending Program Grants (TLPG) was implemented by the 82nd Texas Legislature to award funds to districts that already have a technology program in place. This school year, SISD began their 21st Century Digital Learning Initiative, which allowed for eighth graders to start using iPads loaned out by the school in their studies.According to the Region 10 Education Service Center, "The goal of the program is to ensure that all students have dedicated access to a personal technology device."Applications were submitted to the Region 10 Education Service Center on behalf of the TEA (Texas Education Agency) for the possibility of the grant, in which the funds can be used to either purchase, maintain or insure equipment for the district's technology lending program.The center awarded around 170 grants totaling to $9,500,000. SISD was one of approximately 20 school districts who fell into the middle category--based upon student enrollment, which were eligible to receive up to $100,000.To be eligible for the TLPG funding, some criteria had to be met. The number of economically disadvantaged students were considered; the district also must have adopted digital materials for one or more core subjects in at least one grade level.In addition, applicants must have an approved technology plan filed with the TEA, along with provisions for professional development to teachers for the use of the devices. SISD already has the technology plan up and running with their eighth grade class, thus most of the requirements were met.Three ways are listed by the Region 10 Education Service Center on how to use the funds. Since SISD has already developed a check-out program for technology devices and added wireless internet access at the middle school, the funds could be used to enable students use of a personal device during this school year.The application process began in mid-June of this year, and applications were due by August 1, 2012. Notification of the grant awards were made at the start of September.Just like the eighth graders, seventh grade students will have to pay a $50 usage and insurance fee for the iPad, and all of the same guidelines, policies and consequences will be implemented.Marlett noted that training is about to begin with the seventh grade teachers, with the added benefit of the eighth grade teachers--who already have some experience with the device--for a collaborative effort in learning.While the iPads and cases have already been ordered, a meeting date for parents and teachers will be scheduled once the materials are received."We are very excited to bring more technology to the kids," elated Marlett. "We feel fortunate to receive the grant [as] there was much competition for the money." He also acknowledges that the process in obtaining the grant was a "team effort" and is "proud to be a small part of this terrific team." He also commends SISD superintendent Terry Pittman for his continued pursuit of progress in learning for the entire district."Mr. Pittman has us constantly looking for ways to help our students learn," said Marlett. "These iPads are just one of the many advances we are making across the district to do that."