WEEKI WACHEE — Give Winding Waters sixth-grader Megan Procunier the option of an iPad or a textbook, and it's really no choice at all.
"The iPad," Megan said. "It's more efficient and probably has better research and stuff."
When the 2012-13 school year begins later this month, she'll get her wish.
Megan and the rest of the sixth-graders at Hernando's newest technology-based school will be the first students in the district to be given iPads as an integral part of their classroom education.
They will use them for just about everything.
They will access textbooks and literature online. They will complete electronic worksheets. Communicate with teachers. Access information through the Internet, take notes and even present what they've learned using applications provided for them, according to principal Dave Dannemiller.
"We're really excited about this pilot," said Melissa Harts, the district's director of technology and information services. "The purpose of these devices is to give students another opportunity — another tool — to express themselves and also to engage in the curriculum."
The school district purchased 175 iPads at a cost of $500 each for roughly $90,000. The price tag will be covered by capital funds for equipment at the new K-8 school, which is beginning its second year.
"That's the only way we could do it," said superintendent Bryan Blavatt.
Students will sign out their iPads when they arrive at school each morning and return them at the end of the day. Students will be allowed to take them home if they have proper insurance.
Megan's mother, Mary Jo Procunier, said she was told it would cost $50 to take the devices home, but she thinks the program is a great idea.
"I think it's wonderful," she said. "My daughter is really thrilled. It's kind of like a little mini computer."
More than just helping students look up information, Procunier said, she thinks iPads and technology-based learning is the way of the future.
"The way technology is, eventually it will go to no books at all," she said. "It's just the way technology is now."
The sixth-graders will use the iPads throughout their core curriculum subjects each day, Harts said. Teachers in those classes will be required to include activities in their lesson plans utilizing the devices.
That can mean a lot of things.
Students will use them to produce, manage and save their work. They'll be used to make presentations, both musical and visual. They can do research, using the district's filtered Internet. Perhaps most interestingly, students have access to a bevy of applications. They could, for example, use an app that pulls up recent newspapers or a mathematics app that allows them to do remediation work, Harts said.
District officials stress that students won't have unlimited access.
Read: Students shouldn't be playing Angry Birds, Blavatt said.
"You can't just take it out of the box and give it to a kid," he said. "We have to program, we have to do training, we have to do preparations. We have to set up procedures for acquisition of applications."
The Winding Waters sixth-graders will have to take a mandatory elective called iTech, Dannemiller wrote in a letter to sixth-grade parents. It will teach students how to take care of their iPads, how to use them and cover broader lessons, such as what it means to be a good digital citizen.
"Being the first to roll out a one-to-one initiative is an honor and a challenge," he wrote. "We will be establishing the culture, processes, and implementation procedures that others will use as they build their programs."
Blavatt thinks the iPad pilot program is just scratching the surface.
The Hernando school district, as well as districts around the country, have just begun to take advantage of technology-literate youngsters in the classroom.
The use of iPads points not just to a change in the way students learn information, but what information they might need to learn in the future.
"What I'm amazed at is we still spend a predominance of our time in classes relating data that students have learned to access in short periods of time (on computers)," Blavatt said. "So why are we doing that?
"Why are we teaching the states and their capitals?"
It's just a tap of the finger away.
Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432.