Updates on Maine, Green County iBook initiatives

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Maine's program that put Apple iBooks in the hands of students in all 241 public middle schools has gotten high marks as the first full year of the experiment draws to a close this month, but may face hurdles as the state faces a projected US$1.2 billion budget shortfall, according to a Foster's/Citizen Online article.

As part of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, all 7th grade students and teachers across the state received iBooks at the start of the 2002-2003 school year. In January 2002 Apple negotiated a contract with the Maine Department of Education to provide 36,000 iBook systems to seventh and eighth grade students and teachers across the state. Part of the Maine Learning Technology Wireless Classroom Solution, the effort's goal is to make Maine students "become one of the most digitally capable groups in the world."

Conceived before the economic downturn, the laptop initiative was originally planned as a US$50 million effort that would let seventh graders take the computers with them through graduation. Now that the funding has been whittled down to $37.5 million, the students will keep their iBooks through the eighth grade, then turn them in (new seventh graders will get new iBooks).

"The $64,000 question for educators is what will happen next," Foster's/Citizen Online writes. "The project was originally envisioned as expanding to include high school students, and a decision is looming for lawmakers and educators. Legislators will have to act in the next session to provide additional funding if there's to be a seamless transition when the current crop of middle school students enter high school, officials say."

Gov. John Baldacci said he's determined to see through the project that was the brainchild of his predecessor, Angus King. For now, Maine doesn't have the money, but Baldacci said he'll "turn over every stone" to find a way to expand the program, according to Foster's/Citizen Online. Already, some school districts are looking at private funding for pilot programs in high schools, the article adds.

Meanwhile, Greene County, North Carolina educators and public officials recently traveled to Cupertino, California, to meet with Apple about the "Learning With Laptops" program, according to a Reflector.com article.

Piloted in Henrico County, Virginia, the US$3 million program would provide about 2,000 iBooks for students and teachers in grades 6-12. It's felt the program will save copying and textbook funds. Textbooks would be available to students but used more as a resource, Greene County Schools Superintendent Steve Mazingo told Reflector.com

"Apple has a tremendous dedication to education," Mazingo said. "I'm very optimistic at this point (about a partnership)."

The cost of the program covers the cost of the hardware, staff training, and implementing a wireless network. Students would be required to lease the laptops for four years and pay a $50 insurance fee, the Reflector.com reports. The school system would lease the laptops for four years from Apple at no interest.

"County Manager Lee Worsley budgeted $125,000 for the project in the county's proposed 2003-2004 budget," the Reflector.com story adds. "The school system is in the process of applying for grants totaling $1 million. The remaining $2 million would be financed."

This story, "Updates on Maine, Green County iBook initiatives" was originally published by PCWorld.

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