AIKEN --- There isn't an app to correct limited Internet and technology options in rural areas, but the Aiken County school district doesn't want Area 4 pupils' location to be a roadblock to experiencing technology that is common in many homes.
In a pilot program this semester, fifth- and eighth-grade pupils at Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary/Middle, Busbee Elementary and A.L. Corbett Middle will have access to iPod Touch models with cheap applications that will expand their access to the world.
"So few of our students are able to afford access to technology, and we don't have a huge library where students can go in and access computers," said Rose Marshall, Busbee and A.L. Corbett principal. "The school system is the only place they have opportunity to experiment with technology."
Marshall, who spent 20 years in North Augusta schools, said she saw a drastic difference in what was available to Area 4 pupils after taking over as principal last year. Area 4 also has the highest student poverty rate in the district.
Even if North Augusta students don't have access to the Internet at home, the library is never more than 15 minutes away. Some Area 4 pupils live more than an hour away from the school and broadband Internet is limited, leaving most families with dial-up access or none at all, Marshall said.
"They don't see it and they don't see parents using it, so we have to incorporate it into their everyday lives so technology is more relevant to them," she said.
Teachers will loan out the iPods during class, where they can use them for virtual field trips to museums and podcasts for college classes. Eventually, pupils could check them out to load up with books to use at home for research.
At-risk freshmen at Silver Bluff High School will also participate in the project this year. Next year, it will be introduced to sixth and ninth grades at Area 4 schools.
In the past two years, Aiken County has received several grants that place iPods and laptops in students' hands, but this is the first time the county has funded the project itself. The district used federal Title I money, state school improvement funds and the purchase of servers at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center to buy more than 300 devices, according to Dr. Kevin O'Gorman, the associate superintendent for instruction.
Administrators liked that iPods were more sustainable than laptops and other technology.
"We want our kids to ... leave Wagener-Salley (High School) feeling comfortable with technology, not like they were just introduced to it," Marshall said. "This is starting to put them on equal ground with the kids they'll compete against for scholarships in a few years."