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April 8, 2013

Caston to add 3 mobile labs

State grants funds $70K tech purchases

FULTON — Caston Elementary School won its second Special Education Improvement Award this week, a state grant totaling nearly $70,000.

Its principal plans to use the grant to nearly triple the number of Mac computers available to elementary students.

Caston is the second area school to be awarded a grant under the Special Education Improvement Program, along with Logansport. This year’s grant will build on the purchases made with last year’s, said Caston Elementary principal Cindy Douglass.

“Last year we wrote the grant and we were able to get two mobile SMART classrooms — complete classroom setups with SMART technology, and along with that we were able to get a mobile Mac lab of 20 stations,” Douglass said. That included software designed for the SMART hardware as well as other programs.

“It was highly successful,” Douglass said. “What we found was what you so often find, that the demand for the use exceeded our supply of equipment.”

The most recent program the school added to be used on the grant-funded laptops was Reading A to Z, a collection of e-books categorized by grade level as well as topic and content area.

Students using that can read those e-books at their reading level without the stigma of reading “baby books,” Douglass said, if they’re reading at a different level compared to other students in the same classroom.

For the school’s grant application this year, Douglass focused primarily on hardware to use with the software programs the school had already bought.

She plans to order 60 Mac laptops for three new mobile labs by the end of this month. That will bring the school’s total number of Macs to 95, she said.

Part of the grant will also be used for software to enable one student to move a cursor on a screen using just eye movements, said Douglass.

At Caston, 42 students are enrolled in special education programs, she said. One student can’t speak and doesn’t have use of his hands. An eye-gaze camera and accompanying software were written into the grant application to allow that student to participate in the school’s curriculum and take a more active part in the classroom.

“With this technology, he will be able to interact with the computer more in the classroom like the rest of the students can,” said Douglass.

She’d hoped to win the state grant a second year, she said, but had thought their chances might have been diminished by having gotten it the previous year.

When administrators found out Wednesday that it had come through, “we were thrilled,” Douglass said.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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