AUBURN — Every kindergartner in the city will get an iPad2 computer in the fall to boost learning, the Auburn School Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night.

Auburn may be the first school district in Maine to give computers to an entire grade level, former Gov. Angus King said. He was in the audience applauding the committee vote.

“I think this is a stunning idea,” he said.

King introduced laptops for seventh-graders in Maine 10 years ago, a program many educators credit with being successful.

The Apple iPad2 is like a tablet computer, only smaller, lighter, easier to use and less expensive. “There’s no mouse. You use your finger,” King said. “Everyone knows how to use their finger.”

School Superintendent Tom Morrill said he expects 285 kindergarten students this fall. At $500 each, the cost of outfitting all kindergartners and teachers will be about $200,000, he said.

He pledged to work from now through June, when he retires, to find the money, in the school budget and from grants, to cover the bill.

“What it’s really all about is a game changer,” Morrill told the committee when introducing the idea. “This is truly redefining how we’re going to teach and learn. We’re talking about a new tool, the iPad2. You begin to watch how young people jump on, jump in and figure this thing out. It has great potential for leveling the playing field for all students.”

Some students start kindergarten behind others “and never catch up,” Morrill said. The iPad2 “can close that gap for many students. It can also accelerate learning for many others.”

When young children are given an iPad2, “they can make it sing. … It gives me great pleasure to roll this out,” Morrill said. Auburn can reach its goal of boosting literacy rates from 62 percent to 90 percent by 2013, “and this is the tool to do it.”

Before the committee voted, members heard testimony from a Washburn Elementary School teacher who works with students who need extra help.

Mauri Dufour, a K-6 interventionist, showed a video of kindergarten students learning their letters on an iPad. Four letters popped up on the screen. Students had to quickly identify which one was a B or a P or an M. The 5-year-olds correctly identified the letters, laughing as they worked.

Dufour said last fall she was working with one kindergartner who was struggling to learn his letters. She handed him her iPad, which has programs for children to learn letters and sounds. Within two weeks, he knew 12 to 14 letters. And within six to eight weeks, the boy knew all of his letters. He was back in class doing grade-level work.

Apple representative Jim Moulton handed an iPad to each school committee member, demonstrating how they work. With smiles on their faces, members tried out the programs.

King predicted that in a few years, iPads will replace the laptops for the state’s middle school students. Talking about students in the teacher’s video, King said, “Those boys were engaged. They weren’t bored. They were doing it. That’s been one of the big lessons of the laptops.”

King said he got a call from Morrill last week inviting him to the meeting, and King was enthused about what the Auburn School Department is doing. “It really is going to the next level. It gives us a chance to get a jump on the rest of the world. That’s what we’ve got to have.”

Morrill said he’ll start some pilot programs in kindergarten classes this year to test the iPad2.

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