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Lemon Grove Middle Schools Go Wireless with e-Pads

As San Diego County students head into the new school year, KPBS begins a three part series -- Classroom 2.0: High Tech Takes A Seat. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis explores how technology is

Lemon Grove Middle Schools Go Wireless with e-Pads

WEB EXTRA  | Video: How the e-Pads work
Video shot & produced by Joseph Spurr, edited by Erica Simpson

As San Diego County students head into the new school year, KPBS begins a three part series -- Classroom 2.0: High Tech Takes A Seat .  KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis explores how technology is changing the classroom and the lives of students. She begins in the Lemon Grove School District -- a national leader in putting technology in the hands of students and teachers.


Gerren Hall is a precocious 13-year-old who goes to Lemon Grove Middle School in Lemon Grove. In front of him sits a high-tech device he calls his personal tutor.  

Hall: Every morning when I turn on my e-Pad, first thing I do is check the weather. Right now in California, all around Cali, it's beautiful -- sunshine.

The e-Pad is Gerren's very own wireless computer. It’s bright yellow with black rubber grips on the side. The Lemon Grove School District handed out about 1,500 of these small computers to middle school students this year. It also provided them with broadband access at home. And the best part -- the technology is all free. Gerren says learning just hasn't been the same.


e-Pad Cost Breakdown

• $1000 per e-Pad (includes battery pack, carry case, software)

• e-Pads will be distributed to 1,400 students (Total cost is approximately $1.4 million)

• Broadband provided to all families for nine months out of the year

• Broadband costs approximately $10 per month per household (Total cost is approximately $126,000)

• Overall cost for e-Pads and Broadband = $1.5 million

Where Does the Funding Come From?

  • Microsoft Partners in Learning grant

• Voucher settlement funds

• Making changes in school budget and reassessing programs within the budget

(Photo: e-Pad. J oe Spurr/KPBS . Research: Susan Murphy.)

  • Hall: Say if I need help on a certain subject, say math -- it's not my strongest subject -- I don't have time to stay after school. I can always refer to my e-Pad for guidance.

    The e-Pad is now the essential learning tool in Lemon Grove. Teachers plan daily lessons on it and grade assignments in real time. Students use it to read digital versions of textbooks, take notes, surf the web and do homework.

    In the tech world this is called one-to-one technology. More districts are interested in one-to-one tech plans because research shows kids do better in school if they can customize their learning experience. But Lemon Grove has done more. It also made sure each student has Internet access at home.

    Darryl La Gace is Lemon Grove's tech expert.

    La Gace: That's what makes another part of this project so unique across the nation. Even though there are the one-to-one initiatives out there -- the kids that have that connectivity taking the laptops home -- they're getting online and using them. Other kids -- it’s not the same experience. I think we're really proud to say that this is as important as everything else.

    To find out how kids are using this technology at home, we visited 13-year-old Ivan Rubalcaba and his mom Eleanor in their small Lemon Grove house on a hot summer afternoon. Ivan was eager to talk about how the e-Pad helped him.

    Ivan: Pretty much, I used it for the social studies book because I was really cruddy in English and social studies.  So I usually use the social studies book to help me out so I can study and stuff.

    That extra studying paid off.  Ivan was able to turn those cruddy grades into A-pluses last year. And he's not the only student who’s seen improvement. Research shows Lemon Grove students continue to make gains on state tests, and student attendance has soared. He and his mom say the e-Pad has energized families in the district. 

    Ivan: My friends were at school and they were like, 'I don't think my cable modem is going to work.' And the next day, they're like, 'oh my gosh that stuff is so cool.' Man, you can go on the Internet and stuff, research for projects, and I think that's really cool for families that can't afford the Internet. And that helps them you know, because then the kids can do their research at home, and they don't have to go to the library. I think that's really convenient for the kids.

    One man who's watching the e-Pad experience unfold is Bruce Wilcox, CEO of Project Inkwell . Wilcox specializes in one-to-one tech plans in education. He says what's happening in Lemon Grove should be happening in large urban school district around the country.

    Wilcox: I think they have a unique model, and I think what Lemon Grove is demonstrating is potential for doing this at scale.

    Wilcox: It's not a technical problem any more.  Used to be.  Not anymore. Now the problem is one of leadership and the commitment of resources on the part of the public school system to do this for every child.

    Lemon Grove school officials are now working with the county's office of education to share it's one-to-one tech plans with school districts around the county.

    Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.