COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - School bells were ringing in the west Coachella Valley on Wednesday morning as students and teachers in the Palm Springs Unified School District kicked off the first day of school.
This academic year, Palm Springs USD representatives said, the district is making a big push for technology. In fact, roughly 7,000 students within the district will be enrolled in a 24-7 Chromebook program.
"Right now we have seven sites that kids can take computers home," William Carr, director of educational technology, told KESQ News Channel 3's and CBS Local 2's Katie Widner.
Carr said the district will also provide free Wi-Fi to 600 students who need it at home.
"If the family doesn't have broadband internet, they receive a hot spot that they can take home for the year," he said.
The goal is to embrace how much time students spend on their electronic gadgets by incorporating educational applications on the devices. At Painted Hills Middle School in Desert Hot Springs, the district saw a 6 percent gain in math standardized test scores after the program launched during a previous year. Carr said students went from spending 30 minutes a day on a math program in class, to a total of 12 hours a week when using it at home on their own accord.
"I truly feel blessed to work in this district," said Caitlyn Peterson, who teaches fifth grade at Julius Corsini Elementary School in DHS, one of several locations where the district is beginning the program this year.
The computers will be at no cost to parents. The district is spending roughly $2 million a year to fund the new technology, equipment and programs. That is something Peterson said she believes is vital for students.
"Just thinking about what jobs will be available in the future, we have students coming up and there are jobs that aren't even created yet," she said.
The district's instructional technology specialist, Eduardo Rivera, said another new program is geared for just that.
"YouTube is a huge component of student's lives at this point," he said. "For us, we watch TV. Students watch YouTube."
A VLOG Club will teach kids how to use online digital communications by creating YouTube channels on campus.
"When I go to the schools and talk to the students, about 60 percent want to be YouTubers," Carr said. "The top 10 YouTubers will make over $3 million. The top first YouTuber makes $3.5 million."
Yet another program aimed at setting students up for success in their futures is a new e-portfolio program that will begin at the elementary level and continue through high school graduation. Every year, students will grow their digital citizenship skills, making them more aware of how to ethically navigate the so-called webisphere.
The district said that beginning in the third grade, students will start to learn the basic elements of building a website, eventually building a digital app by high school graduation. The goal is to use the portfolio for college admissions
Carr added that this is just the beginning of the district's plans for new technology programs. The district is exploring other pilot programs that could become staples in the future.