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February 22nd, 2012
At Las Vegas charter school, iPads power project-based learning
“The world has changed; the expectations in the workforce have changed,” said Abbe Mattson, EKA’s executive director. “You can’t even work at a McDonald’s without using a touch screen. … If we don’t change how we teach, it’s a disservice to our kids.”
The iSchool model
In previous years, EKA had a ratio of one computer to every two students, which proved ineffective in the academy’s project-based learning method, Mattson said. Students got distracted as they waited for their peers to finish using shared computers, she said.
In 2008, when EKA renewed its six-year charter with the School District, Mattson began working with the EKA Foundation — the five-member group appointed in 2008 that oversees the charter school — to build a high-tech school campus equipped with iPads, Macbooks, and AppleTVs on a high-speed, high-capacity network. The new school also would consolidate all the EKA students from three locations to a unified campus, Mattson said.
The EKA Foundation partnered with iSchool Campus, a Utah-based company that works with charter schools to bring Apple technology into the classroom. The company has helped Vista Academy in St. George, Utah, and Cumberland Academy in Tyler, Texas, become iSchools.
EKA’s transformation into an iSchool will be complete next month when the academy has its grand-opening celebration at its new campus near Mountain Vista Street and Russell Road.
Three vacant office buildings — victims of the recession — have been rehabilitated by builder-partners The Boyer Company and iSchools Campus into a 21st-century school. Construction at the 60,000-square-foot campus cost the foundation $6.5 million — about $820,000 of which went to the technology retrofitting. EKA has dedicated a portion of its annual budget toward iPad updates.
The technology upgrade and campus consolidation was completed in phases, with elementary schoolchildren moving to the Mountain Vista campus at the start of this school year. In January, the campus welcomed its middle and high school students. Previously, EKA students attended three campuses, at Whitney Mesa, Sandhill, and Community Lane.
After a decade, EKA finally had a single campus — complete with a playground, grass field, and state-of-the-art technology — to call its own.
“It almost seems too good to be true,” Mattson said, surveying the campus. “This facility is everything we’ve ever dreamed of. I’m so proud of this place.”
‘Like second nature to students’
In the six months since its technology infusion, EKA has become a model of what the classrooms of the 21st century might look like in Clark County.