Nanwalek School’s 80 students finally received their iPads on Tuesday. The long-awaited celebration was not a quiet one.
Staff and students clustered into the village school’s gymnasium to receive the various Apple gadgets granted in 2014 through the ConnectED initiative’s partnership with the White House. Cheering, singing and vibrant tales filled the ceremony.
“This is the story of how one little school in the great big state of Alaska came to be celebrating together with its community, district and the Apple ConnectED team today,” said Nanwalek’s principal Nancy Kleinee addressing the packed room. “Once upon a time, but not so long ago, in the beautiful faraway village of Nanwalek, which means ‘A place with a lagoon,’ a principal lived and worked with some pretty incredible students.”
She told the tale of embarking on her kayak trip to her summer cabin at the end of the school year, and the call she received from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Director of Information Services Jim White on “one sunny, luxurious day.” White encouraged her to apply Nanwalek School for the ConnectED grant, a new program at the time, that pairs students with updated technology, at a 1:1 ratio, she said.
So Kleine made a premature and hasty retreat back to the village. She admitted she initially thought the school had little chance of securing the grant.
With help from White and others she told Apple the story of Nanwalek.
“In my story (to Apple), I accentuated the uniqueness of Nanwalek and its people, the needs of our students, and the fact that we were on the brink of fast Internet,” Kleine said. “Rather than hanging out at a mall, Nanwalek teenagers can be seen hanging out nets to catch fish for their elders, or learning the traditions of Nanwalek seal dancing. Younger kids live a fun-filled life, and are downright just adorable. Students of all ages prefer a snack of fish caught right in the beautiful waters of Cook Inlet.”
In 2014, White helped bring “fast internet” to the village for the first time, and “should be forever famous,” for his work, Kleine said.
Kleine told Apple the timing was right, and that the grant “could create an explosion of learning through technology at Nanwalek School.”
Last fall she heard the news. Nanwalek was one of 114 schools in the nation, and the only school in Alaska, chosen to receive services, devices and three years of support from the ConnectED team.
“‘Wow, wow, wow,’ I muttered all day long,” Kleine said.
Since then, many preparations have been made for the technology’s arrival.
A team of community members, schools district administration, school administration and ConnectED staff have worked together to implement the services into instruction, and devices into the classrooms, Kleine said.
Kleine said as she learned about the “wealth of equipment” the school was set to receive, she also realized the grant’s center spotlight is focused on instruction.
“The priority is not about stuff, it is about equalizing learning for all students,” Kleine said. “Our students.”
Superintendent Sean Dusek, school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff and White had planned to join staff and students at the school for the festivities Tuesday but were weathered in, and joined via videoconference at the district office in Soldotna.
They watched as students lined up one by one, and were announced by name as they received their iPads.
In addition, Apple TVs will be installed throughout the building and teachers will be given MacBook laptops, Erkeneff said. The gamut of gadgets will be used in every class, including special education service and for Sugt’stun — the village’s native language course, Erkeneff said.
“We are confidant that the new technology will have a tremendous positive impact for all of our Nanwalek students,” Dusek said.
Kleine said the key to the future success of the grant is making sure every single student makes it to school every single day. She encouraged sharing rides, and parents helping their kids use the new devices at home.
“I would like to invite you to be partners in this project,” Kleine said, asking the younger members of her audience to stand. “You are the sunshine of our lives, and the apples of our eye. I want to tell you something really important and I don’t want you to ever forget it. I come to school in the morning and I turn on the lights, but this school does not truly shine, it does not truly light up until each and every one of you is here at school.”