Parlier High hands out iPads to happy students

The Fresno BeeDecember 19, 2013 

— They weren't wrapped or tied up with ribbon, but it still felt like Christmas came early at Parlier High School when half the school's kids got their hands on shiny iPads on Thursday night as part of Parlier's new tablet program.

Students eagerly lined up among the bookcases in Parlier High's library, listening to holiday tunes playing over the speaker as they waited their turn to get a new iPad Air.

Senior Nely Gomez, 18, was nearly speechless when asked for a reaction.

"I'm so excited, when I heard about (the iPad program) I was like, 'An iPad? Me?' "

The school's younger grades will get their devices on Friday.

Parlier joins districts across the state and nation that are swapping textbooks for tablets in an attempt to go paperless and give kids access to technology. In the Valley, Central Unified already has a "one-to-one" plan that aims to give each of its students a tablet by next fall. Fresno State President Joseph Castro is floating a tablet program for college students, and Fresno Unified has also said it might buy devices.

Early adopters like Los Angeles have already found kinks in the system -- officials initially underestimated costs for their iPad program, and they're still wrestling with how to upgrade antiquated Internet servers and keep kids from hacking district firewalls.

Parlier High Principal Edward Lucero said he's hoping to avoid those problems.

The school is leasing the equipment for $207,000 annually for three years -- a cost that includes the tablets, keyboards, cases and hardware. The school will have a chance to buy the devices for $1 each at the end of three years, or lease a newer version. The district will pay about $35 monthly per iPad for Internet service, ringing up $378,000 yearly.

The digital pads will come equipped with a Verizon hot spot, a cell-phone sized detachable device that provides Web access at home and school. But Lucero said it will block inappropriate pages and certain social media sites.

Kids will be responsible for the tablets and parents will pay a $43 refundable insurance fee to help cover damages and theft. But other things, like mischievous youngsters exchanging their device for cash online -- or as district officials said, "using the Apple Air as an umbrella" -- aren't covered. Then it will be up to families to buy a replacement.

Lucero said the school picked the iPad Air, the newest and top-of-the-line tablet product from Apple, because it offers a host of education applications. He said the devices are also equipped to run new state computerized tests, which will be rolled out this spring as part of the Common Core standards.

Another reason: the devices are "sexy," Lucero said, and something Parlier kids and families might not buy for themselves.

Parlier, a largely Latino town and agriculture hub, was better known in the past for turmoil among its school board -- like a recall push in 2011 -- and a checkered history with district leadership, including the firing of Superintendent Rick Rodriguez.

The iPads, Lucero said, give Parlier families something to be proud of.

"Our community historically doesn't receive a lot of positive news stories or kudos," he said. "We wanted to do something that, in all honesty, provides something that's very exciting."

The iPad program isn't the first tablet initiative in Parlier -- in fact, kids at Parlier Junior and Martinez Elementary each got Google Chromebooks at the start of the school year. Chris Martinez, Parlier technology director, said this year's rollout is really an overhaul of how the district approaches technology.

"It's a complete change for us -- we generally have one computer lab for every school site," he said. Those labs have 30 to 40 shared desktop computers, he said.

The iPads are "huge," Martinez said. "We're putting the Internet in these students' hands and that's the most important part."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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