Each of the more than 12,000 students at Northwest Suburban High School District 214 will have his or her own iPad when school starts this week.
District 214 had planned to phase in iPads for all students over the next few years, but some budget reorganization allowed the district to buy more of the tablet computers sooner and get them in the hands of students when school starts Wednesday, officials said.
The district had about 9,000 iPads last year, and purchased an additional 3,000 iPad Air tablets with money that would normally be spent on desktop computer replacement and textbooks -- both of which are smaller expenses thanks to the digital transition -- said Keith Bockwoldt, director of technology services.
"We used the existing budget," he said.
Freshmen at the district's six high schools and alternative programs will get the newest iPads and keep them for their four years in District 214, while upperclassmen will get the oldest devices that may need to be phased out sooner, he said.
The district also planned to give teachers a few years to train on the devices before transitioning to a digital curriculum. Bockwoldt said that is still the plan. "We are not forcing all of our teachers to use the devices. We will give them a little more time to continue to plan and get prepared for the digital tools, but we expect teachers will want to use the devices more and more," he said.
By the 2017-18 school year the entire district will have moved to a digital curriculum.
Students are encouraged, but not required, to buy $30 insurance on their iPads. The district also invested in stronger cases and screen protectors to keep the iPads safe in teenagers' hands and backpacks.
"We are totally excited. I think everybody is, the teachers, the staff and obviously the students. We are very happy to give the students this opportunity," Bockwoldt said.
"These are becoming more of a digital backpack for our students."
A new program in partnership with Sprint also is bringing Internet to the homes of low-income students. The district was able to provide 400 free wireless hot spots to families who did not have Internet at home, Bockwoldt said.
"We are trying to bridge the digital divide and make sure that if they have these devices, they are able to use them," he said.
The district also partnered with the Apple store at Woodfield Mall to plan several Parent Days where representatives from the company will help walk parents through how to use the devices and apps their students are using and discuss how the iPads are used for instruction.
"It gives parents a little bit more of an overview of what we are doing as a district," Bockwoldt said.