School staff and community members gathered at the town hall.

School staff and community members gathered at the town hall meeting. (Emily Files)

An initiative to expand technology one-to-one for all grades in the Haines School District is getting some push-back from community members.

At a recent workshop, one school board member said five parents told him they would not send their children to Haines School if there were one-to-one iPads in younger grades. So, the school district held a town hall meeting to hear those concerns and answer them.

The town hall started with a presentation about the technology initiative dubbed “Engaging the Future.” Administrators and teachers talked about their vision of what more technology could do for students.

“We have students who are disengaged, we have students who don’t see any relevance in school, because sometimes they come to a school that is so disconnected from the reality they see the other 17 hours of the day when they’re not in school, that they end up counting the days until they can do something else,” said Superintendent Ginger Jewell.

A few Haines teachers talked about how iPads and laptops have helped them advance learning to a more creative level. Then, public comment. Most of the people who spoke don’t currently have students at the school. Some are parents of future school-age kids. Others, like Suzanne Vuillet-Smith have children who graduated from Haines School.

“I do appreciate your enthusiasm,” Vuillet-Smith said. “But it very much turns me off to have a well-rehearsed selling job and that’s what I feel has happened.”

Vuillet-Smith said it was the people at the school who shaped her daughter, not the technology. The high school already has one-to-one laptops. She said her main worry is increased tech in the younger grades.

“I’m just not comfortable with it. This school is the center of the community. I don’t want kids to learn to communicate using a computer. I want them to learn how to communicate across the table.”

Other parents agreed: kids need to learn how to interact with other kids, not with a screen.

Dr. Adam McMahan brought up another concern: the toll screen time can take on developing brains.

“To assume that this tool does not have neuro-developmental consequences is foolish in a way,” he said.

McMahan also asked how one-to-one iPads in younger grades would impact kids’ physical activity and hands-on learning. Second grade teacher Kim Sundberg gave an example of a recent lesson about flora and fauna in the Haines area. She said the kids went outside, read books, and only after that did they use iPads to add more creativity.

“I firmly believe there’s not one single teacher that would advocate only using this type of technology to further and advance us,” Sundberg said. “We know without a doubt that I’ve got to use markers and crayons. Kids need to talk, they need to have puppet shows, they need to pretend, they need to play.”

First grade teacher Sophia Armstrong said iPads would strengthen her ability to teach students at their levels. And in a classroom of 20 students, those levels vary a lot.

“There is something where, when you’re a parent, you know your child, and sometimes you see the world with just your child, and you say ‘my child doesn’t need that,'” Armstrong said. “But I see all these children, and there is times when I have to go this child needs this, this child needs this, this child needs this. And if it was all paper and pencil all the time it’s very hard to meet all those needs.”

As people questioned the damaging effects of children using technology too much, some school board members and administrators broke in with this: We have to trust our teachers.

“I do trust them, and they’re great teachers,” said school board member and parent Tiffany Dewitt. “And I know they’re going to make the right choices for my kid.”

Dewitt, along with other school board members, said she was concerned about the Engaging the Future initiative at first. But every teacher who has spoken about it has spoken for it, and that says something.

At the end of the meeting, some of the people who spoke against technology seemed a little more at ease that teachers would use it wisely. McMahan asked the school district, if they do expand tech in the younger grades, to track it somehow. That way, there would be evidence about whether it’s a success or not.

They also agreed that parents should be more involved in discussions about expanding technology.

The final decision about this lies with the school board. As budget meetings continue, the board will decide how much, if any, to spend on new technology. Instead of expanding tech one-to-one in all grades, they might decide to make it a more gradual process.

The next school board budget workshop is on May 26th.