CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Isaac Millman’s individualized education plan requires the Cedar Falls school district to provide him with an iPad for use in the classroom.
Millman, a sixth-grader at Orchard Hill Elementary, uses the iPad to practice his reading, grammar, speech, math and fine motor skills. His ability to navigate through the multiple pages and ferret out shortcuts has exceeded even his teacher’s expectations.
“He is very tech savvy,” said Tammy Vanderwerf, a special needs teacher. “This has opened up so many doors for him.”
But not all of Vanderwerf’s students had access to the same opportunities. Only those with IEPs that required the technology — and there are few — had access to them on a regular basis.
Until last year.
Jill White, the district’s coordinator of student services, saw a need while working as an Area Education Agency 267 school psychologist at Orchard Hill. When she saw a story online about breakthroughs students with disabilities had while using iPads she forwarded the story on to her husband with a small request.
She asked if he and his business partners at Cohesive Creative and Code would donate a single iPad to the school for similar use. Neal White, along with owners Arend Miller and Mike Tyer, did her two better. They bought one for each of the three special education teachers. And when a fourth joined the team this year they outfitted him with the same equipment.
“It’s important to us that kids have access to the technology that helps them learn better,” Tyer said. “It’s important to our business and to the community at large. This was something we could do to help out. It wasn’t a huge investment for us, but it has had a huge impact on those students.”
Jim Fineran, who joined the Orchard Hill staff this year, said the technology is just one more way he can immerse his students in their learning. With smaller budgets it’s sometimes hard to get access to the important, but not necessarily mandatory, tools available.
“Teaching through technology is a great avenue,” he said. “The iPad is just one more tool for them.”
Though it’s too early for any long-term data, anecdotally Vanderwerf said she has seen improvement in the students who have regular access to the iPads. And it isn’t just academic. The technology allows the students to be more independent in the classroom and to be leaders among their peers.
“I can partner him with other kids because he does know so much about the iPad. He gets to experience that leadership role, which is a role they don’t often get,” she said.