Students at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School will be toting iPads next year instead of heavy textbooks.

George Wingbermuehle, president of the Catholic co-ed high school, said all students will be required to have an iPad at the start of the 2012-13 school year.

It's an "ambitious" plan, Wingbermuehle acknowledges, but "it's also the future."

"We would rather be at the forefront with technology than playing catch-up," he told The Missourian.

"And it's time we start teaching students the way they play and learn today, and that's through technology, rather than how we learned," he said.

Since mid-September, all teachers at Borgia have been using iPad2s - exploring the digital content available in their respective disciplines and generating potential uses within their classrooms.

That experiment has gone very well, said Wingbermuehle, noting teachers are very excited about the endless educational possibilities the iPad provides, and equally important is the student engagement component.

And with the recent announcement by Apple of new software that reinvents the school textbook, Wingbermuhle said he feels certain now is the time to move forward with transitioning Borgia to an all-iPad school.

There are two new applications to take the information in textbooks and put it in interactive form on iPads and computers. One is called iBooks 2, a free download for iPads, available from Apple's app store. The other, iBooks Author, is a tool authors and publishers - as well as students and teachers - can use on a computer to create interactive iPad lessons.

Wingbermuehle said he feels the electronic textbook is "truly revolutinizing education."

"Now when you study something like the Roman Empire a teacher can use his or her iPad and a screen to pull up maps, graphics, videos, even a movie," he said. "It's interactive and that's what makes it so unique."

He also pointed out that the electronic textbooks cost between $7 and $15, far less than most of today's hardback books. And both applications can be updated continually, he noted, and are easy to use.

Students Excited

Freshman Ryan Reuwer agrees. He already uses his iPad now at Borgia and couldn't be more of an advocate for requiring all students and staff to use them.

"I'm definitely excited about this and so are many other kids," Reuwer told The Missourian. "The iPad helps me study and get organized, and it makes learning fun."

Students will be able to "mark up" their iPad books electronically, creating the digital equivalent of note cards as they go through lessons, Reuwer explained. And they will be able to keep the iBooks, since they are digital files, after the courses are over, he said.

Wingbermuehle noted about one-fourth of Borgia students already are using iPads in the classrooms and probably about half of the students have laptops. However for those not up to speed with the current technology, iPad training will be offered to students who need it and informational meetings are planned for parents.

Additional training for teachers, particularly on the iBooks Author, also will take place.

"With this software teachers could write their own textbooks, using different apps, movies, graphics, whatever they want to include - it's so exciting," Wingbermuehle said.

Since Apple is forming partnerships with three of the biggest publishers of school texts - Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which are responsible for 90 percent of the textbooks used in the United States today - Wingber muehle said it won't be long for all textbooks the high school uses to be available electronically.

"We will still have some traditional textbooks next year, but ultimately our goal is to be all electronic and paper-free. That won't happen right away, but that is a goal," he said.

Wingbermuehle said with iPads, teachers will be able to grade papers and tests online through an electronic drop box that students will move their materials into.

Parent Response

The response from parents has been positive overall, Wingbermuehle, however the cost of the iPad, which runs about $500, is certainly an issue.

The school is working with a local bank that is offering a financing program for students to purchase the tablet, he said, and textbook fees will drop significantly.

"Five hundred dollars is a lot of money, but this is something they will use over four years and it will be theirs to take with them after they graduate," Wingbermuehle said.

"We did discuss whether school should purchase the iPads or the student and in the end we felt the kids would take better care of them if it was their own property," he added. "There is insurance available to replace or fix them and certainly that is something families will want to take advantage of."

Wingbermuehle said the school will have some iPads available for students to check out for brief periods if their iPad is broken or being worked on.

On Feb. 21 and 22, the school will hold meetings with parents of current and incoming students to explain how the new system will work.