PORTLAND — When the Apple iPad was released last spring, Anja Hanson started thinking about how Portland Adult Education students lacked the necessary technology to compete in the 21st century.

Understanding the challenge, Hanson, the program’s college transition adviser, quickly began considering solutions, acting upon even the most improbable of impulses.

“I started out writing this crazy open letter to (Apple CEO) Steve Jobs to try to get him to give us 50 iPads,” she said. “And that didn’t get anywhere. So I tried locally with Maine Apple, and that didn’t get anywhere.”

Hanson then began researching local foundations and set her sights on 50 netbook computers, which cost between $300 and $400 each. iPads, meanwhile, cost between $500 and $800 each.

And that plan clicked. 

Last week, the district announced it had received a $25,000 grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, which, according to its website, strives to ensure that all people have the opportunity to develop their potential and provide healthy, productive futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

As a result, the district will purchase 30 netbooks, with cases and insurance, for Portland Adult Education graduates who go on to college.

“The foundation was incredibly generous,” Hanson said. “It was a big deal.”

Hanson said her original proposal was to use all of the grant money to buy 50 computers.

But, upon the recommendation of the foundation, whose representatives visited the district, Hanson decided to dedicate about $10,000 toward technological upgrades, including projectors, at the West School, where the majority of adult ed and English language classes are held.

Hanson said a panel of students and teachers will begin meeting to develop a rigorous application process for the computers, as well as a policy for taking care of the equipment. Recipients will likely be required attend a workshop, she said.

Hanson said that students who graduate from adult ed and complete one semester of community college will be able to keep their computers, noting that many adult ed students have limited income.

“I was really envisioning this literally as a scholarship,” she said. “A way of affirming symbolically their accomplishment and potentially making it easier for them to make that transition” to college.

Hanson said the decision to allow students to keep their laptops was partly due to feedback from high school instructors who claim that netbooks, though affordable, are difficult to maintain.

“They are inexpensive technology, but they’re not durable technology,” she said. “They can be very frustrating to maintain over a period of time.”

Since 2009, 28 students have graduated from Portland Adult Ed’s College Transition program and moved on to college.

There are 40 to 50 students now in the College Transition program, Hanson said.

The Personal Computers for College Project, or PC2 Project, comes at a time of high demand for Portland adult ed classes.

The district said in a press release there are 201 people on a waiting list for classes – the ninth consecutive trimester of full enrollment.

Hanson said she expects to handout about 15 laptop computers sometime in February. The remaining 15 computers will be distributed in late spring/early summer, or next fall, depending on the applications.

“I felt pretty strongly that I wanted students to land on campus with that little case that said to them and other people that they were – like other college students – good to go,” she said. “Because you can’t even apply to places like (Southern Maine Community College) without getting online.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

This story was updated on Jan. 17 to remove incorrect information that was given to the newspaper.

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