A handful of kindergarteners, headphones on, worked at computers along one wall in Elizabeth Irwin’s class at Jay Elementary School. Another group of students worked together across the room. Circling a table, a half-dozen more practiced writing, reading, and math on the classroom’s newest learning tools: iPads.

The iPads were made possible by more than $10,000 in technology grants from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The organization also gave the school more than $5,000 to use in safety surveillance equipment for the school. Total grant monies from the Poarch Band ring up at $16,559.24.

And that grant is helping lead the way to classrooms fluent in technology for a new generation of “digital natives”—kids born after 2000, growing up using smart phones, tablets, and other new technology.

“I like how they have games!” said Blake Roberts.

The game he was playing? A Reading Rainbow app helping him learn new words. Nearby, another kindergartener, Jax Lowery, worked on adding with a math game.

“Fun!” he grinned.

Each class at the school has one or two iPads now. The next step is to get five or six in each classroom, enough for an iPad station. Ultimately, the goal is to put an iPad into the hands of each student. The grant allowed the school to purchase 20 iPads over Christmas break. The school purchased an additional 20 with money raised by parents and Title 1 funding.

“It is a huge challenge for educators now,” said Kelly Allen, the principal at Jay Elementary School. “We could have never made a big purchase like that. It would have never been possible had we not received this grant, so we are very thankful to the Poarch band of creek Indians and what they’ve allowed us to do to reach our kids.”

The iPads improve the learning environment and help teachers reach their students more effectively. That might mean engaging kids beyond pencils and paper.

“The younger generation of kids today, they are wired differently,” Allen said, pointing to research on how new technology has affected the way kids brains learn and develop. “If you give them a text book and a piece of notebook paper, you’ve lost them. They have to be doing, they have to be interacting.”

The more teachers and staff can engage the kids, the better they’ll perform, Allen said. That motivates them to teach in ways kids learn today. It’s especially important for kids who don’t have access to technology at home, so they can get comfortable with the way of the future so they’re not left behind. The new technology works because the kids are learning when they think they’re playing games. But the price of all those gadgets adds up.

“It feels like we’re trying to keep up and catch up at the same time,” Allen said. “The struggle with funding for that is constant across all the schools.”

Jay Elementary was invited to apply for the grant because the school has a small population of Native American students. “So many of our employees live in Northwest Florida, and we know how important good schools are to them and their quality of life.  If we can help the school strengthen their educational abilities and grow the opportunities available to the children, we are proud to be able to help," said Robert McGhee the tribe's government relations advisor.