Schools across the country have kicked off what can only be called an unconventional school year, and administrators and faculty are under immense pressure to make it work. With 24 years of information technology experience under his belt, Vicksburg Warren School District Director of Education Technology Wade Grant is determined to be successful.
In an early survey, families indicated that just over 50% of students would begin the 2020-2021 school year as distance learners.
“Those numbers were actually higher than that at the beginning of the year,” Grant said, “and because of the flexibility the district is offering families, the numbers are constantly fluctuating.”
The district offers students the choice to participate in person, via distance learning or a hybrid of both.
Naturally, a huge concern when thinking about online learning is reliable equipment and available connectivity. “At any given time, the district has at least 8,000 Chromebooks available for students and staff,” said Grant. “For many years, we have provided one device per student to access online resources.”
High school and some middle school students have long been able to take their Chromebooks home. With the mandatory closing of school doors that occurred in March 2020, they were made available for every student in the district.
Keeping approximately 8,000 computers functioning is not an easy task.
“Currently we have contractual agreements to repair devices on-site, and we take advantage of extended warranties to the fullest extent,” Grant said, “and with the EDLA funds, we are purchasing all new devices.” EDLA is the Equity in Distance Learning Act which provides $150 million to school districts to pay for computer devices for students and teachers, software to deliver instruction and enhanced internet connectivity.
“There are not that many homes who cannot access the internet, but we are working closely with the few families who are having connectivity challenges,” he said. “Providing a way for every student to be successful is our top priority.”
Grant said the district is working with families on a case-by-case basis to eliminate connectivity obstacles. “If a family is having any problem with connectivity, we ask them to contact their student’s principal immediately. Principals will then contact us, and we’ll work with them until we have found a solution,” he said.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But we will find a path forward for that student’s family.”
Some solutions have been extending Wi-Fi access to areas surrounding school buildings, including internet access to school buses for remote areas and helping families with affordable internet services.
“As the year is progressing, we are seeing a steady increase in our students learning in person. I pray we continue seeing this trend,” Grant said. “We (the technology department) are committed to helping every student have the means to be successful, but I think everyone will be happy when life just gets back to normal.”