At most Beaufort County public schools, iPods and other portable music players are banned from classrooms and hallways.
But at Hilton Head Island Middle School and others with high numbers of students with limited English skills, teachers use the devices to help students learn to read.
Five county schools will use iPods in their English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes this year to tailor instruction to students with different levels of English proficiency.
Hilton Head Island Middle School bought a set of 30 iPods last year, and Bluffton High, H.E. McCracken Middle in Bluffton, Red Cedar Elementary in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts elementary school will receive sets this year.
The school district paid about $200 for each iPod Touch using federal money earmarked for ESOL students, said Sarah Owen, the district's ESOL coordinator. The district's contract with Apple Computer Inc., iPod maufacturer, includes training for teachers and a device that can charge and sync about 20 iPods to one computer at the same time.
Retails prices for iPod Touches are $200 to $400, depending on the model.
"It's a popular form of technology, so students are excited about them," said Nancy Davis, an ESOL teacher at Hilton Head Middle. "The kids are really into them, even though they know they're for educational purposes, and they're not going to be listening to their favorite song."
Davis said her students use the iPods about twice a week. About one-fourth of the students at the school have been identified as "limited English proficient," she said.
Students listen to stories as part of a fluency program designed to develop vocabulary, improve pronunciation and emphasize important words and concepts taught in core subjects. Students also use the iPod's video playback for grammar and reading exercises.
Later this year, Davis plans to help her students record themselves with the iPod's video so they can analyze their own speech and the speech of their peers.
Students at Hilton Head Middle said they typically read a story before using the iPod and mark words they don't recognize. They then re-read the story while listening to an audio version.
"If you don't understand the story, you can listen to it," seventh-grader Alex Sanchez said. "When I read, if I then hear the story, it sometimes makes more sense."
Seventh-grader Osvaldo Lopez said the iPods allow him to pause and rewind a story if he doesn't understand something.
"It's more fun to have an iPod reading to you," he said.
For now, the iPods are used only in ESOL classes, but Davis said the school's program might be expanded to include students studying foreign languages, such as Spanish and French.
Kathleen Corley, principal of Red Cedar Elementary, used iPods to communicate with parents at a back-to-school open house this year. About 40 percent of the school's students have limited English proficiency.
Before the open house, a staff member translated part of Corley's speech into Spanish and downloaded it to the school's 30 iPods. Parents who did not speak English used the iPods during the speech to follow along.
Corley said she expects to begin using the iPods with students during the next few weeks.
"The possibilities are probably endless, and I'm going to imagine that we'll only scratch the surface now," she said. "Students will give us the best ideas."