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McAllen ISD goes digital

Here’s a look at the future, coming to a school near you.

A Rio Grande Valley school district plans to equip every one of its 25,000 students with Apple iPads, rolling ahead with a digitally enhanced curriculum effort that’s among the largest of its type in the nation.

“It’s not just about a device; it’s about a device in a child’s hand,” McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce told school officials and local dignitaries packed into an elementary school library for the announcement Tuesday. “It puts McAllen ISD out front and center.”

The school board last month unanimously approved the first phase of the project, a $3.6 million purchase of more than 5,000 iPad 2’s and 425 iPod Touch devices.

Within a year’s time, the district plans to take things districtwide, spending millions on devices that well may become each student’s own Internet research library, project manager and academic navigator.

To equip each student with an iPad will cost about $20.5 million, district officials said. The district will buy the devices, but said they also will pursue grants and donations to help pay for them.

While McAllen ISD officials say that this is the biggest project of its type in the country, it’s conceptually nothing new. The Lege passed a law in 2009 that directed the TEA to to adopt a list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials from which schools could select electronic textbooks or instructional materials to purchase. Admittedly, it’s been slow going so far, but some more innovative districts have found ways to take advantage of smartphones to enhance the classroom experience. This is just the next logical step in the progression. I wish McAllen ISD luck in finding underwriters for this project, and I hope they keep good track of all of their data.

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