By Jamie Wiggan
When Sto-Rox students headed home in March to finish off the semester remotely, more than half did not have access to a personal device suitable for virtual learning. Now every student has their own laptop.
Like many districts throughout the country, Sto-Rox took advantage of federal CARES Act funding that freed up billions of dollars for education supplies. However, the injection of federal cash also created a surge in demand for devices that brought about delays and backlogs, with many districts still awaiting devices after the start of term.
“We had a large need in terms of access,” said Michael Amick, curriculum director. “That was our starting point in March.”
Now every student has their own laptop, while kindergarten and first-grade students also have access to iPads.
By mid-August, after approving an all-virtual reopening plan for the beginning of the semester, the Sto-Rox district still needed about 500 devices. Fortunately, a cancellation on an order of 500 Google Chromebooks with office supply vendor Staples enabled the district to distribute devices to every student who needed one ahead of the new school year.
“We were able to get them really just in time,” Amick said.
More than just plugging a temporary gap, the district’s technology improvements will have a lasting impact beyond the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of the first things I noticed when I arrived [at the district in 2019] was the schools’ lack of access to devices and technology skills,” Amick said. “…This really changes everything for us, I feel like now our students can compete, they can connect with the broader innovation in the region.”
Educators, many of whom had no experience with online learning platforms before the pandemic, discussed the changes during the district’s Sept. 24 board meeting.
They celebrated the district’s quick turnaround on technology access, while emphasizing the need to continue teaching educational staples like reading and writing and developing students’ social and emotional intelligence through face-to-face contact with students and peers.
“This is [the students’] future,” said Carrie Palermo, high school math teacher.
After reopening the schools virtually in late August, the district has now begun phasing students into a hybrid model. By early November all students — except those who opt into a permanent new cyber program — will spend about half their time in class and the rest learning remotely.
Administrators said the in-class time will prioritize off-line education, but will also be used to help students troubleshoot any technology issues that might inhibit their virtual learning experience.
“[Students] will only be in for two and a half hours, so we need to maximize their time for instruction,” said Superintendent Frank Dalmas.