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Back-to-school: A new and exciting start for Perham students

Mike Heminsley, a 2011 Perham graduate, works in the technology department at Perham High School putting bar codes on each iPad. This will help the school keep track of the iPads. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

Typical doesn't describe the start of the upcoming school year in Perham, especially for those starting at Perham High School.

With the iPad initiative kicking off, as well as some significant building changes, this is the "most different start to a school year ever," Superintendent Mitch Anderson said in an interview last week.

Anderson said school staff could really use another month to complete the entire to-do list. But because of time constraints, administrators prioritized and held off some projects for future breaks. The chosen building projects and all the iPads will be ready within the next couple of weeks, just in time for Sept. 4, the first day of school.

The biggest, most exciting change - for students and teachers alike - is undoubtedly the introduction of the iPads. There will be one for every student in the high school, and five per classroom in the elementary and middle schools.

Thanks to funding from a special levy that passed last April, the school district has been able to transform its approach to teaching.

The district hopes to gain high levels of student engagement, Anderson said. With iPads comes a whole other level of educating youth. Things like video and audio lessons will expand learning experiences beyond the school walls.

"We are revolutionizing education," said Anderson.

By summers' end, teachers will have had five days of intensive technology training sessions. Staff development opportunities won't stop there, as the district has placed Tech Integrations Specialists at each school. Teachers Jeff Morris, Sandra Wieser-Matthews, Deanna Kovash and Kathy Lauer will teach part-time while helping other teachers with the new technology part-time.

High school students will have their turn for technology training on one of two days: Aug. 22 or 23. On these days, iPads will be collected and students at each grade level will go through mandatory training. Parents are encouraged to attend. A handbook specifically for iPad use has been put together to address questions parents and students may have, and will be distributed at that time.

The Prairie Wind Middle School and Heart of the Lakes Elementary School will also use iPads for educational opportunities. Although the younger grades don't have a one-to-one iPad-to-student ratio yet, the iPads in the schools are set up on traveling carts so they can be shared among classrooms.

"Even the early childhood kids and kindergarten will have iPads," Anderson said. It's the way of life, she added, and the district wants to get iPads into student's hands at as early an age as possible.

In order to meet all their new needs, the district has implemented major infrastructure upgrades, with increased bandwidth from 40 bits per second to 140 bits per second. Now, 100 percent of school buildings are Wi-Fi compatible.

Despite all the preparations, because it's the first year of using this new technology, teachers and students are bound to run into situations not yet addressed, which staff will have to deal with at that time, Anderson said.

Other things will change because of the iPad initiative, as well. In years' past, Perham students tended not to use locks on lockers, but this practice will be highly discouraged. The school will be providing locks and telling students to make sure their iPads are either with them or locked in their locker at all times. If an iPad gets lost or stolen, the family will be responsible for replacing it.

By far the biggest building improvement will be the new Student Union at the high school. After a major reworking of the Media Center, the room now offers something administrators say the school needed more of - open space. The carpet and hardwood is now installed, and the walls are painted. The old furniture will continue to be used until school officials are able to see how the room is being utilized.

The special education classroom, complete with a new toilet and a shower, was moved from the second floor in the high school to the room right next to the district office on the main floor. This was done because it didn't make sense to school officials to have kids in wheelchairs on a higher floor. Although the school is equipped with an elevator, in the case of a fire, the kids would have needed to be carried down the stairs.

Although most of the upgrades happened at the high school, the middle school saw some new carpet this summer. The elementary school saw most of its updates a year ago.

A district-wide open house will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 29 from 4-6 p.m.

For more information, call the school district at 346-4501 or see their ad on page 9a.