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At middle school orientation, new hallways and iPads

Shauna Brignac (from left) talks with Patricia Marin, Patty Marin and Reynald Marin Thursday afternoon during student orientation at the Worthington Middle School. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTION -- Even though the first day of school is still almost two weeks away, the Worthington Middle School was full Thursday with its annual Back to School event as students, parents and teachers prepared for the 2013-14 school year.

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District 518 has hosted this preparatory event for middle-school students for many years, but for the first time this year, parents were also required to attend an iPad orientation.

Students attended the event to prepare for the school year and to receive schedule, field trip, busing and sports information and to have their picture taken for the yearbook.

"Everyone is going to be down a new hallway, or for fifth-graders, in a new building," Principal Jeff Luke said. "They find out their lockers, so they can go practice that, put some supplies in or decorate a little if they want to."

Students and parents were also able to use the time to correct any errors in schedules, put money in lunch accounts and get a feel for the building.

"The real difference this year is that we need kids and parents here," Luke said. "In the past, we've only needed kids. The kids could get dropped off or parents could come up and pick up their things and give it to them."

Last year, 75 percent of students were represented at the Back to School day, and Luke is hoping the iPad orientation will increase that percentage.

"We're hoping for that to be higher, but see, the difference was that we didn't have to have parents here last year," he said. "I'm hoping to have closer to 95 percent here this year."

As part of the orientation, a short informational video was presented multiple times Thursday to inform parents of their responsibilities and how to best care for an iPad. Parents were also informed that each student will be issued an email address supervised by the school administration for students to use to communicate with their teachers.

Parents also paid a technology fee for the use of the iPads, signed an agreement form and were given an opportunity to ask any questions.

Luke explained that while some schools have an income-based fee for iPad usage, District 518 decided to use a lower, flat rate for all students.

"We did that to keep the confusion out of it," he explained. "And we're not even sure next year it might be less. When it's $20 per kid and you have 775 kids -- that's a lot of money, but that's for replacements and repairs."

iPads will not be issued to students until their parent has signed the agreement and the technology fee has been paid.

The district had originally anticipated issuing the iPads to the students during the first days of school.

"But some of the outside vendors, they weren't ready and have given us delays and are scrambling to get them ready," Luke said. "I'm hoping to get them at least to the eighth-graders during the first week."

Many parents have expressed concerns about their students breaking or losing their iPad. During the orientation, parents were told if they wished, they could put the iPads on their personal insurance policy.

"But that's also where that $20 comes into play," Luke added. "We haven't established everything yet. If a kid hits it with a hammer, you're buying us a new one, but if it falls off the table or something, that's what the $20 is for. . . We understand that accidents happen."

In spite of a few details that still need to be worked out with the iPads, school officials look forward to implementing the new technology and seem confident the iPads will prove to be a useful tool.

"The thing that is really going to change is we have so many kids that forget their homework or don't get it turned in that that is going to change, because a lot of their homework is going to be on their iPad," Luke said.

Sue Johnson said her daughters, fifth- and eighth-graders, have forgotten their homework at school before, and she is looking forward to the iPad holding much of her children's homework and textbooks. She and her daughters are excited about the new technology.

"We have one at home, so they are used to it, but they are both really excited," she said. "For my eighth-grader, it's not having to carry all those books, and those kind of things, just the convenience of it, and the youngest, she's excited, too."

The new iPads will not only be helpful with homework. Johnson also believes they will help the students be more responsible and self-reliant.

"When my eighth-grader was a fifth-grader, everything was different from Prairie (Elementary), and you're so used to teachers taking care of everything -- telling them, 'make sure you write everything down in your planners' and I think that now everything will be right there for them to access everything on their own, and there will be greater communication between the student and the teachers with the email," she said.

Additional sessions for parents who missed the iPad orientation will be at 6 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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