There's a 'Buzz' at the Downey Unified School District in Southern California because they're fully engaged using Apple Learning Coach
Something transformative is happening in the Downey Unified School District in Southern California. “There’s a buzz,” says Allison Box, principal at Lewis Elementary School. “It’s exciting — there’s never a boring day here, and that’s because our kids are immersed in learning environments that are truly dynamic.”
Across the district, students are using Apple technology to create projects as varied as podcasts with GarageBand, animations with Keynote, and movies with Clips — and these changes are reshaping classrooms. At the center of this transformation is a group of educators who have applied their knowledge from the Apple Learning Coach program to rethink how teachers and students approach their studies.
Apple Learning Coach is a free professional learning program that trains instructional coaches, digital learning specialists, and other coaching educators to help teachers effectively use Apple technology in the classroom. More than 1,900 educators have already completed the program in the United States, and the next cohort is now accepting applications through May 30. Additionally, Apple Learning Coach is expanding to 12 more countries, in addition to the United States, by the end of the year.
Downey Unified is home to 22,000 students from transitional kindergarten through grade 12 across 22 schools, including eight Apple Distinguished Schools. More than 10 years ago, the district began using iPod touch to aid with reading fluency for English language learners. Fast forward to today, and all elementary schools provide an iPad to every student and, since the pandemic, middle schools are also 1:1 with iPad.
Downey follows the coherence model, where all schools have the same access to technology, education, tools, and services. For example, each school has an Innovation Lab with coding, robotics, and green screen film projects, and Student Tech Squads provide leadership opportunities where older students mentor younger students and facilitate districtwide creativity and innovation competitions. In addition, a cornerstone at Downey is that all educators are provided professional learning opportunities — and since it launched in 2021, this includes Apple Learning Coach. To date, Downey has 15 certified Apple Learning Coaches, with an additional five educators currently enrolled in the program.
Through a mix of self-paced lessons and virtual workshops with Apple Professional Learning Specialists, each Apple Learning Coach gains a deeper understanding of how to support teachers in the classroom as they integrate technology into learning. Upon completing the program, each Apple Learning Coach comes away with an actionable coaching portfolio they can begin using immediately.
Marnie Luevano was certified as an Apple Learning Coach last year. Her role as an instructional technology coach at Downey Unified brings her into the district’s elementary schools, where she helps teachers reimagine how they use Apple technology to supercharge lessons.
“We work with teachers to identify new ways their students can demonstrate what they’ve learned beyond the use of a worksheet or simply writing an essay,” says Luevano. “And then the kids are taking off with it — they’re so excited. Every time we visit the schools, the kids can’t wait to tell us about the podcast they’re finishing or show us the cover they designed for one of their projects. They’re not just trying to get the assignment done — they’re really enjoying the process.”
This year, as a result of the Apple Learning Coach program, the district’s coaches are deepening their use of Apple’s Everyone Can Create resources. Every week, a new Everyone Can Create project is featured and distributed to educators, and the district technology team has created a digital fluency deck to give its teachers technology goals for students based on grade level. For example, by the end of first grade, students will be able to record video using the camera on iPad, and by the end of second grade, they will be able to build on that skill to combine video with photos and audio in iMovie.
Jennifer Robbins, pictured above, has been working in Downey for 27 years and is the district’s director of elementary education, as well as an Apple Learning Coach. She hasn’t just seen a change in the students as their access to technology has increased — she’s also watched her fellow educators learn and grow.
“Apple Learning Coach gave us the tools to be able to meet educators where they are, no matter the level of their technology knowledge,” says Robbins. “So we want to give voice and choice to our kids, but we want the same for our teachers. We work to customize the learning for them too.”
Jennifer Robbins, Downey Unified’s director of elementary education and an Apple Learning Coach, stands outdoor holding an iPad.
Allison Box, principal at Lewis Elementary School in Downey, California, is shown outdoors holding an iPad.
The results for Downey have been measurable. In an era of declining enrollment across California public schools, Downey has seen growth in its student population. Principal Box, who is also an Apple Learning Coach, credits the program with helping to transform schools in the district, including her own.
“Apple has truly been a game changer in education, both for our teachers and our students,” says Box. “In applying the Apple Learning Coach model, we’re achieving a higher level of engagement, and it’s opening up so many possibilities — we’re thinking about what an augmented reality program or app design studio might look like for our school. It’s helping us create a culture that embraces change and innovation, and prepares our students for the future, and I’m very excited about what’s next.”
Tim Cook tweeted this morning: "Thank you to all the teachers out there who dedicate their lives, day in and day out, preparing the next generation for a bright and hopeful future."