As voters considered the passage of a $350 million bond question in 2016 to support Five Star students, there was plenty riding on its success at Cherry Drive Elementary in Thornton.
The potential investment went far beyond the $2.7 million in building improvements the 39-year-old school was slated to receive. In fact, it was a relatively smaller number – about $238,000 – that was keeping school principal Tina Hepp and her staff up at night, worried if the bond would be successful.
The $238,000 was the school’s piece of bond-funded Instructional Upgrades money. As part of the bond program, each district school was designated a specific amount of money that they could work with their school community – parents, students and staff – to determine the best possible use to benefit their school.
At Cherry Drive, there was little doubt how the money would be used. Over the previous four years, Cherry Drive had transformed itself into a technology-driven school. What had started as a small grant-funded initiative to bring Apple iPads to one school classroom had blossomed into a true 1:1 initiative with an iPad in the hands of each Cherry Drive student.
The results of the effort were unmistakable. Not only did the iPads put critical learning technology into the hands of students – nearly half of Cherry Drive’s population receives free and reduced lunch – but Cherry Drive climbed from an improvement school in the state’s performance framework to a performance school for the past two years.
“Once we had iPads, we were different, Hepp explained of the differentiated instruction and personalized learning teachers could offer students. “It just changed the way we do things.”
The program brought Cherry Drive national recognition as well as a twice-honored Apple Distinguished School. Each year staff from surrounding districts descend on the school to study how they have integrated the technology into their daily learning.
But, as the bond vote approached, Cherry Drive stood on a precipice. With the original batch of iPads starting to show their age and without a reinvestment in its iPad program, how could the school continue the positive momentum it had gained?
“The thought (for teachers) if the bond hadn’t passed, they couldn’t have imagined [students not having iPads],” Hepp said.
She points out that the iPad itself is just an instructional tool, adding that it’s the differentiation, collaboration and instant feedback between students and teachers that both can receive in a 1:1 environment that makes it such an important tool.
The community did support the bond and, in addition to nearly $3 million in building improvements the school can anticipate, Cherry Drive arrived 380 iPad minis for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
In Cherry Drive classrooms, the devices are allowing students to continue to enhance their own learning in an environment where they can digitally interact with their teachers and each other. Hepp is grateful and thankful for the community’s support and the difference the technology is making for her students.
“We were very supported by our community and our dreams came true as the bond passed so that we could continue to use this instructional tool to support student growth and achievement at Cherry Drive,” she said.