WILSON, N.C. (AP) — Victor Ward grinned as he tapped the piano keys. But this isn't a typical piano. Victor, who is nonverbal, is a student in the exceptional children's class at Hunt High School.
And thanks to modern technology, students like Victor now get a chance to experience a different world with the help of an iPad.
"It's interactive, so it does a lot of things," said his teacher Bonita Mildon. "This is the music man. Victor likes a lot of noise and it seems like he likes to use his hands better than the stylus."
Teacher assistant Maurice Williams switched the piano app to a drum app. Victor tapped the drums, making several beats. The iPads are clearly effective for Victor and his classmates.
Hunt High recently incorporated iPad usage for all students. And that includes their two exceptional children's classes. While the iPads have helped students learn and grow in technology, students in the EC classes can now communicate.
Six years ago, Hunt began the laptop one-on-one initiative, which was geared toward seniors, officials said. Last year, seniors were given an additional option. They could choose between using a laptop or iPad for the year.
"We felt like we needed to expand because that was only a small group of students," said Renee Olivieri, Hunt's instructional technology facilitator. "I didn't think that was enough growth."
While a certain amount of iPads were earmarked for usage by Hunt seniors, some chose laptops over the iPads for various reasons, officials said.
"We realized we had some left over," Olivieri said. "Instead of sending them back to go to other schools, we wanted to use them here."
Staff got creative. They also took a leap of faith. But they had an idea — expand their iPad usage to other grade levels at the school.
With support from administrative school officials, Principal Jerry Simmons and Assistant Principal Ronnia Cockrell were able to come up with a plan.
"We saw that the teachers needed them, too, to work with students,"
she said. "Our committee met and we discussed the pros and cons and we decided to expand."
Olivieri sent out a survey to Hunt teachers to determine where they were with technology and what they wanted to do to progress in technology.
"They had interests in the iPad," she said.
Olivieri said they were able to buy four charging cars that hold 32 iPads each.
"Those four cars are earmarked for teachers to check out to use in the classroom," she said. "We felt like this was perfect. The seniors were the only ones who were using them before. Now, we are putting them in the hands of all students"
And officials were especially surprised what this small device did for students in their exceptional children's class.
Kimesha Lindsey, affectionately known as "Mimi," is also nonverbal.
She is constricted with her hands. But her world has opened up since the Ipads were implemented into her classroom. Mimi smiles as Olivieri holds the iPad and assists her in using various apps. Mimi is fully engaged, selecting pictures from a particular app on the iPad. Mimi also holds a long piece of metal with specific tip on the end, what Olivieri calls a modified stylus.
"I saw that Mimi was having trouble making her choices on the Ipad,"
Olivieri said. "It was in her brain but she couldn't transfer it because of her physical problems. I just saw the need that we had to come up with some way for that child to make her own responses. And it needed to be bent."
Olivieri had to first figure out what Mimi could hold. That's when Olivieri got creative and constructed the modified stylus that would help Mimi select things on the iPad.
She is now able to use those downloaded apps thanks to the modified stylus and a bright yellow athletic sweat band.
"They figured that the athletic band around her hand helps it to stay," Olivieri said. "There is another (modified stylus) that has a "T'' (shape) that I made she can hold through her fingers."
Officials didn't know she could make choices until they introduce the iPad into her world.
"With the iPad she is now making personal choices," Olivieri said.
Officials said while other Hunt students now have a new mechanism for learning, so does the exceptional children's class. And each day, these students show progress.
"A couple of them are using iPads that I didn't dream," Olivieri said with excitement. "We had no idea where it would lead. These are students that may not even have use of all their limbs that use a modified stylus."
Cockrell said the vast array of people and services gave Hunt an opportunity to integrate iPads across the curriculum for children. She said it has been wonderful to watch, especially the educational growth inside the exceptional children's classroom.
"Imagine not being able to communicate your basic needs," Cockrell said. "So this provided (them) a form of communication. It opens their world."
She said it also helps them with life skills.
"Nobody is crying and screaming when they're using an iPad," she said.
"It's nothing but smiles and giggles."
"Watching them hitting it with their whole hand to go to hitting it with two fingers ... all of these little progressions we are celebrating," she said. "We are very, very happy. Our goal this year was to incorporate technology with our entire school and that included everybody."
Olivieri said she is grateful to work with staff and leaders who believed in the concept to make the iPad implementation possible.
"The bottom line is that it took staff who were willing to do the work," she said. "It's a whole group effort."
Cockrell said putting the loaner carts in the classroom to help train mentors, interns or other students has been beneficial. In addition to the school wide usage of the iPads, Hunt's onsite day care center is also a part of the movement. Pre-schoolers use them as well. Hunt students, who are learning now about early childhood education, work at the day care center as a part of their curriculum and help the little ones use the technology.
Information from: The Wilson Daily Times, http://www.wilsondaily.com