Students at Althoff Catholic High School won't be carrying around backpacks full of textbooks next year, as all their books will be electronic books on a tablet computer.
Every student and teacher will have an Apple iPad next school year.
"We are trying to take the kids to a learning atmosphere where they learn the best and that's technology," said Principal Dave Harris.
A technology committee of 11 community members formed in September at the direction of the school board, and Harris said the committee discussed various avenues related to technology and determined buying iPads for teachers and requiring all students to have them was the best option.
Jacob Hong, a member of the committee, said the iPad was selected based on the availability of content and the length of its battery life, as well as its praise as a teaching tool from teachers across the country.
Next year, Althoff will join one other school in the metro-east that requires students to purchase iPads, Metro East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville. At Joseph Arthur Middle School in O'Fallon, all teachers and students use Apple laptop computers.
Althoff's push to put iPads in the hands of teachers and students wouldn't be possible without the support of the community and the school's alumni, according to Harris.
During the school's annual auction last month, close to $150,000 was raised to pay for the project, which Harris described as "unbelievable."
"In my wildest dream, I never thought we would get the response and enthusiasm we got from the people that evening. It took on a life of its own," he said. "It shows the community will come together to help our kids advance with a great Catholic education, and this technology will just advance that Catholic education."
Nathan Walter, the school's network administrator, said the money will cover the initial start-up cost of $90,000 to purchase the iPads for the school's 31 teachers and train them as well as outfit the school with the necessary equipment. The remainder of the donated money will be used to cover the yearly costs associated with a technology savvy school campus and the ongoing professional development for teachers the next three years.
This summer, Walter said a contractor will come into the school and create the necessary infrastructure to provide wireless Internet service to students and faculty throughout the academic areas of the school.
Walter said the school will have firewalls and filters in place needed to ensure what students are using the iPads for during the school day is appropriate.
Althoff technology coordinator Pam Schumacher said teachers will have several professional training sessions this summer to familiarize them with the iPad device and ways to use it as a teaching tool.
The school will not provide students with iPads, Harris said. All Althoff students will be required to purchase iPads, which start at $499.
Students currently purchase textbooks at the beginning of the school year, so the cost will be only slightly higher the first year iPads are implemented, Harris said. In addition, students will need to purchase the electronic versions of textbooks, which are substantially cheaper than traditional textbooks.
"The cost of the iPad is at least offset by the reduction in the cost of the books," Hong said. "To me, the cost to students will be fairly neutral if not positive."
During a four-year high school career at Althoff, Harris explained families will likely save money as they will only need to buy the e-book versions of textbooks every school year and can use the same iPad purchased the previous year.
For families who might not be able to afford the full cost of an iPad, Walter said the Knights of Columbus organization agreed to donate money to help reduce the cost for families in need.
Harris said the iPads will be used in a variety of ways, including housing electronic textbooks and making websites and educational applications readily available.
"The classroom will be interactive between the teachers and the students," Harris said. "Kids can break up in small groups and work together. They can do it individually. Teachers can give instructions and immediately send kids to web sites and to apps to enhance the lesson."
Schumacher said teachers will have the ability to give students paperless tests using the iPad. Hong pointed out teachers will be able to analyze data from electronic tests and evaluate how the overall class is performing instantaneously.
Though Althoff will be moving toward a paperless system, Harris said the school will still be using paper as writing, as opposed to typing, is an essential skill for students to have.
Schumacher noted Althoff's push to increase the availability of technology for students aligns with the Common Core Standards to be fully implemented statewide by the 2014-15 school year.
"Our goal is to not just meet their standards. We want to do above and beyond, which is better for our students," Harris said.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.