By Jessica Farrish
All around Raleigh County, students are hitting spots that have Wi-Fi and using their new iPads.
“We call these ‘iPad sightings,’” Mary Ann Foster, technology coordinator for Raleigh County Schools, said Tuesday at the regular Raleigh Board of Education meeting. “It’s interesting that these kids who don’t have ... we don’t have to worry about them.
“They’re going to the places that do.”
Raleigh Schools Superintendent Jim Brown said he’s also aware of the “iPad sightings.”
“I got a text from (an acquaintance) at a Liberty football game,” said Brown. “He sends me a text Friday night ... (of) two high school kids sitting in the bleachers with their iPads.
“We’re on the right path,” Brown said of the iRaleigh Initiative, the county’s recent move that is putting iPads in the hands of every student in the county. “It’s a process.”
Brown said that the “sidebar stories” are the ones that mean the most to him. “It’s not about the device, but about student engagement,” he said.
Students are using the iPads to study, as data at Fairdale Elementary School showed on Tuesday.
Getting iPads into the hands of students who otherwise wouldn’t have a device is one way the initiative has already been successful.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘I can’t afford this for my child,’” said Brown. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that.
“I’ve heard that story a dozen times,” he said. “That’s a win.”
He said the kids beam and their “eyes light up” when they are given access to the technology that some of their classmates may take for granted.
“There are some families that can afford certain devices for their children, but we also know there are some kids that don’t have that luxury,” he said. “We also know there are many families out there that will spend monies they need for bills and food to make sure their kids don’t go without.”
Deployment of iPads is expected to finish Sept. 20 with Crab Orchard and Stanaford elementaries.
Brown said teachers have also expressed excitement at the iRaleigh initiative, along with some “angst.”
“I had a chance to see the iRaleigh training center in action,” he said. “One of the things we continue to emphasize is the expectation isn’t for 0 to 100.
“There is a progression,” he added. “We know their progression is going to be different from one teacher and one classroom to the next.”
He said that as challenges arise, the technology team, educators and staff will work together to tackle them.
While bandwidth in the county was good Tuesday, technology specialist Jeff Webb reported, deployment days showed a slow-down at each school which resulted in some dropped connections.
The bandwidth use came back to an acceptable level the day after deployment and on only one day was bandwidth ever at an unacceptable level countywide, he added.
Raleigh schools bandwidth is “piped” down one “pipe” from Charleston, and all the schools link up to the iRaleigh center for computer access.
“If we see a consistent increase (in bandwidth needs) we will add a second pipe,” said Webb.
Synching electronic “texbooks” have been a challenge, but Brown said the target is to have all schools “synched” within a week of deployment.
There is currently one synch station per school.
“You can’t have less than one,” said Brown, adding that one synch station is adequate for larger schools and more than enough for schools with fewer students.
“If you have a family of three, you have one microwave,” Brown explained. “If you have a family of six, do you have two microwaves?”
All teacher editions of the Social Studies e-books are on their way, after a delay beyond BOE control, Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Moles reported.
He added that after negotiations with Apple and vendors, high school principals will have iBook codes later this week so that students may download iBooks, which have “more bells and whistles” than e-books.
“It will take some time (to download iBooks),” said Moles. “With regards to the bandwidth issue and the access points each particular classroom has, we will need to be very deliberate in how these particular books are downloaded.”
Jarrell said teachers have asked for charging stations. Brown said they have been bid out specifically for elementary school students, who do not take home their devices.
“It’s as simple, too, as an outlet strip,” said Brown.
Moles said BOE officials had a conference call with Carnegie Software representatives recently and learned that the Raleigh school system safety software has been erasing permanent Carnegie files, leading to slower computers when students logged back on since the program worked with each log-on to re-load the deleted files.
Raleigh technology experts are working to correct the problem, said Moles.
In other actions, the board approved Robin Wartella as the new principal at Stratton Elementary School.