Several students lined up inside Wilder Elementary School on Tuesday morning each held up an iPad displaying a letter of the alphabet to spell out the word “welcome” as one of their two special visitors walked through the school’s doors.
The students gathered around the guest, Apple CEO Tim Cook, as he began querying them about what projects they are working on.
“We are making a movie,” one student called out.
“Who is the star of your movie?” Cook asked.
“You are!” responded the student.
When the next special guest, presidential adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, walked through the school’s door several minutes later, the students’ joyous squeals were matched with shouting from a small group of protesters and supporters gathered outside the school.
Unfazed, Trump walked into the group of students and began looking at the images the students displayed on their screens. “I love this,” said Trump, looking at one of the many images. “Did you make that? Very nice.”
Cook and Trump then embarked on a nearly hourlong tour of the school, visiting classrooms and watching students demonstrate their technological skills on the handheld devices Apple provided the school district nearly three years ago.
“In the past year I have visited 20 states across the country … these are states that are often called the laboratories of innovation,” Trump said during her visit. “You come into districts where you have superintendents like [Wilder] Superintendent [Jeff] Dillon who is so deeply passionate about bringing innovation and making a system that works for his or her students.”
Cook gestured around the classroom: “You notice in this classroom there is no teacher, there is a mentor. It makes the learning process for students very different because in a classroom where there is a mentor, people can move at different rates. This is life. We all learn things at different rates.”
Instead of a teacher standing before the entire class and lecturing, the students at Wilder hold the classroom in their hands and complete the work at their own pace.
“What that allows is you can push the person who learns faster onto building the next skill and the person who needs a little more help can get a little more help,” Cook explained. “This school and the leadership in this school are doing just an incredible job of bringing that to life.”
Trump agreed. “This is what is so exciting, the harnessing of technology in conjunction with incredible educators to create this type of really personalized learning experience ... [to] prepare students for a world where digital literacy is absolutely critical but at the same time enable them to move at their own speed.”
Why Trump came to Idaho
Trump and Cook were visiting Wilder schools Tuesday to examine the district’s use of technology. The stop in Idaho is the latest in a series of tours by Trump as part of her work with the National Council for the American Worker, the Statesman reported earlier.
Trump tweeted about coming to Idaho on Tuesday morning, underscoring the visit’s focus on technology in the classroom and workforce preparedness.
Apple has recently worked with Trump and the White House to highlight education best practices for STEM and computer science. Cook connected Trump earlier this year with the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center, part of the Waukee School District in Iowa.
The ConnectED program that Wilder benefited from dates to the Obama administration. Wilder was among 114 low-income schools in 29 states to receive help from Apple two years ago for students without easy access to technology, the Idaho Statesman reported in March 2016. The company at that time donated an iPad to every student and teacher in the district, for use at school and at home.
Nate Poppino contributed.