Students and staff at Washington High School are “getting connected” this year thanks to wireless Internet access — the first phase of the district’s iBelieve initiative.

As part of an optional program at WHS, students can connect to the Internet through a variety of personal devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones.

“We’re calling this BYOD — or bring your own device,” Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said. “Right now we have about 150 students bringing in a laptop, a tablet or using a smartphone. That’s a small percentage, but we hope it will grow.”

Additionally, eight high school teachers completed extensive training this past summer and are working with students and staff to implement technology in select classrooms as part of a pilot program.

These teachers, along with a new instructional facilitator, are utilizing digital tools to create more innovative and engaging lessons, said VanLeer.

Eventually, these teachers will share their knowledge with the entire staff in an effort to meet the technology goals outlined in the district’s 21st Century Learning Plan, she explained.

VanLeer said initially there will be various levels of integration with some areas utilizing technology more than others. The iBelieve team will lead different class sections in piloting various digital tools in preparation for a more broad-scale launch.

The project is starting at the high school because it’s the first building to go live with wireless infrastructure. Other school buildings will follow.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start, VanLeer says of the district’s digital transformation.

“We are working to get laptops in the hands of all our teachers so they can have them for training and generate some level of comfort as we expand our Bring Your Own Device and 1:1 (a device for every student) initiatives,” she said.

VanLeer said she doesn’t like the BYOD model because it doesn’t solve the inequity issues or change the culture of learning to the application level. She said the curriculum and tech teams all agree, but for now it’s a start.

“Ultimately, we know we have a great deal of training to do with our teachers, as they need support in teaching strategies and the integration of technology-rich lessons,” she said.

The plan, VanLeer said, is to go mobile with laptops for all teachers at both the high school and middle school by January.

“Then we want to provide the balance of the teaching staff at the elementary level with their laptops by June 1,” she said. “This is ambitious and it may not happen as quickly as we hope.”

The superintendent said all aspects of the plan will require both board approval and money to fully implement.

In the meantime, the district is offering professional learning opportunities for staff to get trained. A summer academy also is being planned to kick off broad-scale training and communicate the expectations for instructional tech proficiency.

VanLeer said her goal is to begin to transition to a 1:1 model with district-issued devices for students possibly in 2015-16.

“We may start at the younger grades because students in grades 7-12 will be operating in the BYOD environment,” she said. “We could possibly roll out the student devices in sixth grade and then add a grade each year until the BYOD concept is totally phased out.”

VanLeer stressed that the time line is “very preliminary” and a formal proposal still needs to be ironed out.

“Basically, it all boils down to bodies, money and training,” she said.

As the details get worked out, VanLeer is spending time at WHS observing in the tech pilot classrooms.

“I enjoyed observing both the teaching and learning,” she said. “The pilot teachers are in all different places in their own learning and implementation. The best thing is, they are trying things, taking risks and working through the obstacles.”

VanLeer said several other teachers, not involved in the pilot, also are trying new things.

The superintendent first unveiled the iBelieve initiative at the back to school assembly for all staff in August.

The ultimate goal is to instruct, inform, innovate and inspire both teachers and students through the use of educational technology, VanLeer said.

“We’re on our way to doing just that,” she said.