MAPS starts moving to iPads for elementary level

Manistee Area Public Schools director of technology Ken Blakey-Shell shows one of the iPads that will be put put to use in the first and fifth grade classrooms next year. The move will be cost neutral and help the students in the learning process. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — More school districts are looking for ways to increase technology at the lower grade levels, but the big challenge is doing it in a way that is cost neutral.

At the Manistee Area Public Schools they feel that is certainly possible with the addition of iPads, but the educational benefits are where the real rewards will be realized by the district. It has so many possibilities that technology director Ken Blakey-Shell can hardly wait until the start of the next school year to start the process.

“For the last several years, we have been investigating ways we might increase the technology in our elementary level classes,” said Blakey-Shell. “The really exciting trend we have seen from other districts is the use of iPads, or other tablet devices. It has been shown to be really effective, especially at the lower grade level.

“A good example is Ludington School’s program as they are piloting iPads for the second year at the kindergarten level and second grade level and have has just astounding results. Student achievement is really up.”

Blakey-Shell said a great deal of discussion went into the implementation of this program.

“We looked at the ways we can do this and our best way was to sort of open it up to a pool of teachers at the elementary level and ask who would like to give it a try,” said Blakey-Shell. “What we came up with was two first grade teachers and two fifth grade teachers and then the special education teachers for those levels. One of the things we have seen with the special education students is, a lot of times, the technology is especially effective.”

What makes the plan even more appealing is Blakey-Shell says they find it to be cost neutral. At the lower elementary levels, teachers use a tremendous amount of paper and copying for the class projects. That all can be eliminated with the iPads.

“Even with the savings, that is not what is driving this program,” said Blakey-Shell. “What we want is it to be the best of traditional learning and the best of technology, and kind of move forward with it. It is nice that we have a pretty sustainable model that we can look at, and move forward with in the future without any extra cost or going to the voters.

“This is going to be a one-year pilot as we are looking at student assessment to see, if financially, things are going to work out. The hope is next year to have the first, second, fifth and sixth grade classes, and then the following year we would get the third and fourth grade.”

The plans are that every student will get an iPad in these four classrooms and initially they will not be able to take them home. What they are planning to do is to educate both the students and their parents in proper care to hopefully eliminate any breakdowns.

“It is just to make sure they know how to treat the devices,” said Blakey-Shell. “We are planning that in a month the fifth grade will take them home, and then by Thanksgiving, the first grade will be able to do the same.”

However, there will be an insurance fee and a $99 deductible that will be the parents responsibility. It will cover two repairs on the machines with the parents’ being responsible for up to $99. For full-pay students, the insurance fee will be $35 a year, while reduced lunch students will have to pay $25 and free lunch, $15. If they can’t afford those amounts the students will be unable to take them home.

Over the course of the next several months Blakey-Shell said more information will be coming on the program as they prepare for implementation for the start of the 2012-13 school year.



Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at

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