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SCC to use iPads to assist special education students

Shannon Donnelly works with student Xavier Martin on the classroom SMART Board. Soon Donnelly's students will be using iPads as a learning tool.

St. Croix Central Middle School students with severe communication deficits will soon be using iPads in an effort to communicate more effectively and increase independence.

A month ago, Shannon Donnelly, special education teacher at St. Croix Central Middle School, was awarded a $1,000 grant from the Baldwin-Woodville Area Community Foundation, as St. Croix Central provides the educational services for Baldwin-Woodville students with mild to severe cognitive disabilities.

With the grant money Donnelly will be able to purchase two Apple iPads, which she says have become a popular tool in special education classrooms similar to her own.

Currently, Donnelly has six students in her classroom and she says all of them will benefit greatly from this new technology.

"My students have moderate to severe cognitive disabilities and most have a primary diagnosis of Autism. As a result, their academic, social and functional living skills are delayed greatly. The iPad will allow them to learn important functional living skills, such as dealing with money, phonics, letter and number recognition, sorting and how to use a calculator all in a hands-on, fun way," she said.

Donnelly also plans on using the iPad as a portable visual schedule for some of her students.

"This will help with transitions from activity-to-activity and help reduce anxiety when there is an unexpected change in their schedule," she said.

Donnelly said she is most excited about the potential the iPad has to close the large communication gap that most of her students have between themselves and the rest of the world around them.

She said the iPad will give her students a chance to express their thoughts, feelings and preferences effectively through applications such as "iCommunicate" and "Proloquo2Go."

"They will be able to improve and maintain social relationships with peers and classmates as this device will give them a way to participate in a meaningful way when doing activities such as class projects, recess, field trips and many other typical middle school functions in which my students can have a hard time fully participating in to due to communication deficits," Donnelly said.

Donnelly said the iPad will give her students independence by giving them a voice and a venue to effectively express themselves.

"Currently, with many of my students, there are very few aspects of their lives that they have full control over and being able to effectively use the iPad to express preferences, for example, would give them some deserved empowerment," she said.

Donnelly said through her research she has found that the iPad is currently the most widely used piece of new technology in special education classrooms.

"Its versatility makes it user-friendly for many different types of students and its educational applications are second to none," she said.

Donnelly is currently using her classroom's SMART Board with students on a daily basis, but says the iPad will go beyond the SMART Board's capabilities.

"The SMART Board is a great piece of technology but it is limited in some ways; it is not portable which is a huge advantage of the iPad and it takes quite a bit of time to customize lessons for each student for each subject. The iPad has many of the same lessons and concepts I am already doing with my students, built into various applications," she said.

Donnelly hopes to have the iPads up and running by May 1.

She says she is confident the pilot program will be successful.

"My students love to work with technology which increases their motivation to learn. It allows them to be a part of acquiring the important 21st century technology skills we want all students to have when they exit high school," she said.

Donnelly said she is still looking into ways to raise more money to purchase three to four more iPads for her classroom.

She said she is working with an Apple representative to possibly get high quality used iPads to cut down on costs, as she plans on buying insurance and educational applications for the iPads.

"Ideally I would like to get an iPad for all six of my students so I could customize each one based on the students' academic, communicative and functional needs," Donnelly said.

Donnelly said she is excited to see how the innovative technology of the iPad will help her students learn both inside and outside of the classroom.

"This piece of technology really has the potential to change their lives, so I am eager to begin this adventure with them," Donnelly said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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