iPads go far to make day brighter

EAST NEWARK —

When youngsters showed up for the first day of East Newark summer school last Wednesday, they might have been expected to register moping faces.

After all, it was a lovely summer day, with the mercury in the 80s, and the pleasant outdoors beckoning for playtime.

And here they were, stuck indoors, compelled to labor over stubborn English grammar or math problems they had yet to master.

But lo and behold, in the twinkling of an eye, there was excitement and glee when Superintendent/Principal Patrick Martin produced 10 spanking new iPads for classroom use.

Seems that the equipment had been donated by a volunteer teacher aide, Isabella Drzala.

Drzala, who just completed her sophomore year at the Pingry School in Basking Ridge, has been volunteering in East Newark since July 2016, both in summer school and in an after-school remedial program offered during the regular school year.

The 16-year-old has no special educational certifications but her academic credentials speak for themselves: Last year, she was an all-A student and this year, she tacked on As in AP Calculus and Basic Statistics.

So why has she been commuting, via Uber, back and forth between the borough and her Morris County residence to lend a hand?

Well, it turns out that Diana Bras, who teaches math to East Newark sixth- through eighth-graders, used to babysit for Isabella and her siblings.

“I knew that she taught in East Newark where many of the students face challenges in English and math,” Isabella said.

Thus far, during her still formative school tenure, Isabella has found that, “all my teachers have given me a love for learning,” and, as a consequence, “I wanted to challenge myself by extending that love for learning to the East Newark students by teaching them to understand math and English.”

And, feeling that she has derived much benefit from Pingry’s heavy stress on the application of technology in the classroom, Isabella concluded that it made even more sense that she could help foster students’ desire to expand their knowledge through the gift of electronics as a learning tool.

Using hand-held computers, she reasoned, would be “an engaging way to learn math and English and would help further the students’ capability of using technology in future years.”

Thus was born the tech project and, to put it in action, Isabella initiated a GoFundMe campaign, in which she enlisted her friends, family friends and her dad’s business associates to make modest contributions.

It took her five days to raise a total of $3,515, which, minus a certain percentage for administrative fees, she took to the Apple Store and, with the application of a store discount for educational use, she acquired the 10 iPads.

With the aid of an external IXL.com learning app that can be accessed by the iPad, Isabella said, kids can be well-equipped to tackle math or language arts– supplemented, of course, by guidance from their teacher or volunteer aide.

When the East Newark youngsters feasted their eyes on the new products, “it was an amazing experience,” said Isabella. “Their faces visibly lit up.”

Martin said the iPads would be a welcome supplement to a limited supply the school currently has had in stock for the past five years.

They are rotated through grades K through 8, two classes at a time, at the teacher’s discretion, he said. “Sometimes we use them for small groups of students, either for advanced instruction or for students to work on problem areas.”

The school also makes use of laptops, which were also secured five years ago, and it installed a computer lab a decade ago, Martin said.

“We’re now at the point where we’re going to start replacing our older models,” he said.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.