As technology continues to grow and change, the students who are also growing, changing and learning have a growing need: access to computers. That's why one teacher took her own inheritance to address it.
Often, budget constraints keep districts from getting tech tools. It's well known that teachers often spend their own money on such equipment, but the principal of Willow Lane Elementary says the school has never seen anything of this magnitude before.
"I think that was pretty special because it's kind of like a present to us that we can use brand new computers," student Makayla Speed said.
By all rights, Tracy Gripentrog could have bought something for herself. Instead, she put the cash toward her third-grade students.
"A lot of people have hobbies," she explained. "My hobby is teaching."
For 30 years, Gripentrog has watched teaching evolve. Now, she is embracing the importance of computers because in the past, students would finish a page of problems only to find out they did it wrong. By using a computer, the kids can get instant feedback on a problem.
"They see that they are getting it wrong and they come and say, 'Mrs. Gripentrog, I got it wrong. Can you teach me how to do it?'" she explained. "So, they ask to learn."
Currently, the White Bear Lake school has 10 iPads available per grade and 30 Chromebooks for the entire student body, which is 400 strong.
"We're always looking for more technology," Principal Brendon Schwirtz said.
For years, getting up-to-date tech was a teaching goal. Recently, she realized that ambition by spending $4,000 of inheritance money from her parents, Audrey and Gordon Baird, to buy 15 Chromebooks for her class alone.
"They always supported everything I did," Gripentrog said of her mother and father.
The idea was partially inspired by the Bairds because Gripentrog's father would pass his own computers down to his daughter for use in her classroom. One was even held together by duct tape.
Gripentrog's mother, on the other hand, was an artist who made posters designed to help Gripentrog's students follow directions.
"I knew they would support this and say, 'Go for this. Get the computers,'" Gripentrog said.
Gordon Baird died a few years ago, and Audrey Baird passed away in May. After receiving her inheritance, Gripentrog went straight to the school to ask permission to make the purchase.
"It shows her dedication to her class and she wants to make a difference with every student," Schwirtz said.
Gripentrog still hopes to find a way to buy six more Chromebooks so each student can have a new computer. Currently, some of the students are using older ones.
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