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Alsea boy, 6, gets iPad with help of community

ALSEA — Six-year-old Eli Ulm appears shy and reserved. Until you put an Apple iPad in his hands. His eyes light up and a big grin spreads across his face. Then his tiny fingers start moving across the device's touchscreen.

Ulm, who was born with Down syndrome, knows exactly what he's doing. He navigates through apps with ease.

Earlier this month, Alsea schools science teacher Rozeanne Steckler began letting Eli experiment with her personal iPad. She knew that technology frequently is used in many schools to help students with special needs.

Steckler wanted to find out how Eli would respond to the device.

"I wasn't sure if he'd like it, but after 20 minutes, he wouldn't let it go of it," Steckler said. "Eli is more receptive than expressive. Using the iPad has helped him express himself and communicate easier."

And now, thanks to other Alsea students and community members, Eli has his own iPad.

After Steckler's students learned how much the iPad has helped Eli, several of them sprang into action. They decided to raise money to purchase an iPad for Eli that he could use at school and home.

They organized a bake sale Oct. 13 during Alsea High School's volleyball match and football game. Fifth- and sixth-grade students made cinnamon rolls and sold them Oct. 12 at school. Collection jars also were set up around town at places such as John Boy's Alsea Mercantile and Deb's Cafe.

The effort raised nearly $1,500, more than enough to cover the cost of an iPad for Eli. Steckler said a protective case for the iPad and a iTunes gift card also were purchased. The gift card will enable Eli and his family to download apps for Eli's iPad at their convenience.

"I was very shocked we raised so much money," said Alsea High School senior Whitney Schreiber. "We're a small community. It shows that people here are very generous and caring."

Schreiber herself made signs and collection jars for the fundraiser, and her family members helped bake goods for sale. Among the items for sale were cookies, brownies, cakes, loafs of bread and doughnuts.

Steckler, who has experience working with special needs students, said using an iPad benefits Eli because he's able to move at his own pace and control what he's doing onscreen.

"The iPad helps Eli with repetition," Steckler said. "It also allows him to manipulate things that he can't in a normal classroom setting. Eventually, we hope that it will help him with learning numbers and letters."

One of the app programs Eli uses is "Peek-a-Boo Barn." He can drag his finger across the door to make it open. Inside are farm animals. When Eli touches the image of a chicken or cow, a cluck or moo results.

Eli's mother, Mirium, said that she's watched Eli use Steckler's iPad several times. She is impressed by how well the device engages her son. She's noticed that he's more verbal when he's at home with his family. Eli's older sister, Liberty, is a fourth-grader at Alsea School.

"This year he's trying to talk more, instead of just pulling at my hand," Mirium Ulm said. "It's great seeing the progress he's making in that area."

Alsea Schools District Superintendent Marc Thielman said the leftover money from the fundraising effort will help create a fund to purchase technology for other special-needs students. He said the district was planning to purchase an iPad for Eli before the students and community got involved.

Steckler picked up Eli's iPad from the Mac Store in Corvallis on Oct. 18.

"That's one of the benefits of a smaller district," Thielman said. "Things can go from concept to implementation much quicker. In this case, it all came together in about a week. It was a community-wide effort."