For Alicia Silva, a single mother with three kids and three jobs, an iPad is out of reach. Silva works as a part-time art teacher, seamstress and home-care provider, and like many parents, can't afford a tablet computer.
Within weeks, though, the Coachella Valley Unified School District will take care of that. It will issue an iPad to each of Silva's three kids as part of a program that will provide iPads to all students in the district, one of the state's poorest.
In that moment, "a part of the world" will rest in their hands, Silva said. "If they want to travel, they can travel through the iPad to see Europe, to see another continent. ... They can research anything."
Coachella Valley Unified will issue iPads to all 19,000 students -- preschool through high school -- by November.
A tablet rollout of this scale would be a hefty undertaking for any school district, but it is especially ambitious in Coachella Valley Unified, which estimates that about 90% of students live in poverty. Many of the area residents in this rural desert region work low-paying farming jobs, according to a recent study funded by The California Endowment, a private health foundation with a focus on underserved communities.
This widespread poverty only makes the iPad initiative more necessary, district Superintendent Darryl Adams said.
"If you look at the haves and the have-nots, we are definitely in the have-not column," Adams said. "We've got to give the students some hope. We have got to give them something that makes them say 'We matter.'"
Coachella Valley Unified modeled its iPad initiative after McAllen Independent School District in Texas, another low-income district that invested in technology on a widespread scale. Two-thirds of the McAllen students live in poverty.
McAllen Independent negotiated a three-year, $8.7 million lease of 23,000 iPads with Apple. Students are allowed to take the iPad home, and each device is fitted with a tracking mechanism in case it is lost or stolen. A district-wide rollout was completed in March. Less than 2% of the iPads have been stolen or broken since the rollout, said Mark May, a McAllen spokesman.
Peter Cookson, manager director of Ed Sector, an education think tank in Washington, said Coachella Valley and McAllen are paving a path that other districts can follow.
Many educators agree on the potential of tablets in the classroom, but since most districts have only used them on a small scale, there are no district-wide studies on the effectiveness of this investment.
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