Newell, a school administrator, held an Apple iPad, a device smaller than a textbook but with the capacity to store a library’s worth of information. Then came a presentation of rules — starting with all the “do-nots.”
Jacksonville is issuing 1,100 iPads this week and next to students in grades 4-12 at sessions like the one held Tuesday for 11th-graders. Parents, some of whom were seeing the tablet computers for the first time, were excited about what their children will learn with the devices, but some also worried.
Some wonder what will happen if their sons or daughters break or lose one of the $759 iPads. Some wonder how to keep kids from getting into online mischief. And some wonder whether all families can handle the $50 fee for the devices.
“There are always concerns when you’re taking on a project of this magnitude,” said Thomas Abernathy, who spoke with a reporter after the presentation as his son and daughter headed upstairs to be issued their iPads.
School officials say they’re aware of parents’ concerns and are planning for them, though they acknowledge they haven’t solved every issue. Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said the school system is working to make sure all students get access to the devices and to help families understand the benefits and risks of the Internet.
“One of the biggest reasons we are doing this is to level the playing field so that whatever your background, you’ll have the tools to take advantage of this learning,” Campbell said.
Students will use the devices to do Internet research, to make presentations, to do group work and to take tests. Using examples, Campbell said students might use the devices to make a movie instead of doing a book report, or to have a video chat with someone on another continent during history class.
“There are a lot of opportunities that can be there that maybe weren’t there before,” Campbell said.
Abernathy was among those Tuesday night who questioned whether the $50 usage fee would be too much for some families to pay, especially those with more than one child.
“Public education is supposed to be free. Unfortunately we’ve arrived at a time where there is some cost associated,” Abernathy said. “Somebody has to bear the cost of the device.”
The school system is paying most of the nearly $1 million cost of the program with local money from the 1 cent sales tax Campbell said he was aware that some parents might have trouble paying the $50 fee, and said the school system plans to work with families to be sure all students have access to the devices, though he didn’t share specifics.
Menzo Parker, another father of two students, said he worries what will happen if one of his children accidentally loses a device. Parker said he wants to buy a school-recommended insurance policy to cover the cost of the replacing or repairing lost, stolen or damaged devices.
“That’s a huge concern,” Parker said.
He asked school officials at Tuesday’s session how much the insurance will cost, and was frustrated when they couldn’t provide an answer. A link on the school system’s Web site had information about the insurance coverage, provided by a company called GoCare. The company’s Web site showed prices of $37 to $61 per device per year, depending on the type of policy.
Lesley Cunningham, mother of a Jacksonville High student, said she worries about students having access to devices that allow them to use the Internet in unsupervised settings.
“It makes me nervous,” Cunningham said.
Currently she and her husband keep a family computer in the living room, so they can monitor how the Internet is used in their home. Tuesday they lost that ability because their son’s iPad can go everywhere he goes, she said.
School officials pointed out that there are some safeguards in place that should prevent students from accessing inappropriate sites and from downloading popular social networking apps, like Facebook.
Some parents also said they worried about what would happen to students who don’t have Internet access at home. They worried too about parents and grandparents who aren’t computer literate trying to help their children, and to monitor kids’ Internet use.
Campbell said the school system is working to address those concerns. Officials are compiling a list of businesses and public places that have free wireless Internet access, he said. And, he said, hosting classes to teach students’ families how to use the Internet would be a good idea.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star. Remaining iPad orientation sessions:
Kitty Stone Elementary School
Fourth grade - Aug. 12, 6 p.m.
Fifth grade - Aug. 13, 6 p.m.
Sixth grade - Aug. 14, 6 p.m.
Aug. 15, 6 p.m.
Aug. 20, 6 p.m.
Jacksonville High School
(10th-12th grade sessions were earlier this week)
Ninth grade – Today, 5 p.m.
Eighth grade – Monday, 5 p.m.
Seventh grade – Tuesday, 5 p.m.
Aug. 8, 10 a.m.
Aug. 15, 3:30 p.m.