Rock Hill parents see opportunity to iRock digital learning initiative

dworthington@heraldonline.comMay 23, 2013 

Rock Hill schools left Thursday’s community meeting at the First Calvary Baptist Church with an important pledge – the church won’t let a $65 fee keep its children from having access to an iPad.

The church, said the Rev. William Buie, will pay the fee for any member of the church who can’t afford it.

Having access to an iPad tablet opens up the world to the church’s children and their parents, Buie said. “There will be no child left behind. We don’t want the fee to be an excuse for a child not having a tablet.”

The church’s support came as it hosted a meeting with the school district requested by the Rock Hill chapter of the NAACP. About 30 parents and children attended the meeting. Most parents left optimistic that an iPad – and the collaborative learning it nurtures – should make a big difference in their lives of their children.

The school district will begin its digital education initiative dubbed “iRock” this fall, putting an iPad2 computer in the hands of every student in grades four through eight. Students who pay the $65 protection plan fee will be able to take their iPads home.

Some students in other grades also will have in-school access to iPads. At South Pointe High School, all ninth-graders will be given an iPad, said Luanne Kokolis, associate superintendent for student services, human resources and technology.

Parents voiced some concerns about access to the Internet at home and what happens if a iPad is stolen.

Christopher Smith, director of professional development for the district, and Kokolis said the schools are working with city officials and Comporium about Internet access. They have mapped where students live, identifying where there are free Internet “hot spots” access points and “dead zones” where there is no or limited Internet service.

Kokolis said students who don’t have access to the Internet at home can download their homework assignments and other needed material before leaving school.

Each iPad will have a “find my Ipad” feature which can tell authorities where a stolen computer is located, Smith said.

Others were concerned that writing skills would be affected because students were spending more time on computers. Smith said information from other areas that already implemented digital initiatives see writing skills improve as students are more likely to self-edit their work now that it is easier to move material by cutting and pasting.

Melvin Poole of the NAACP asked how iRock will affect student performance.

Smith said the early data show that the number of discipline cases and drop-out rates decrease and test scores and graduation rates improve.

Efforts to change South Carolina laws to allow school districts to purchase online textbooks also was discussed Thursday. The Rock Hill school district has been working with local legislators to allow online textbooks. Kokolis said the school district will be asking for a waiver from the law so it can use online textbooks for middle school science classes.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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