With funding made available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many West Virginia County school systems have met their goal of purchasing enough laptops or tablets to send one home with each student. . However, there are still challenges in bringing everyone into the digital age.
In February 2020, Hans Fogle, public information manager for Jefferson County Schools, told the State Journal that due to the funding, the rural nature of the county and its student body of nearly 9,000 students, be one-on-one with the students seemed like a long-term goal.
Now, less than two years later, the county has achieved that goal.
“We actually handed out our latest Chromebooks to students last week, and we’re now officially one-on-one,” Fogle said. “Every student has a Chromebook, and we have a ’48 hour remote’ plan in case we need to, for whatever reason, close schools for distance learning. We are ready to do it within 48 hours.
Fogle said, however, that this was only made possible through federal funding in response to the pandemic, and that the county was originally planning to be one-on-one only in 2023.
“Right before the pandemic, we had a new chief technology officer, and one of his goals was to go one-on-one,” Fogle said. “I think it was a three year plan. Then the pandemic hit and accelerated that. She was able to identify the sources of the Chromebooks and activate them. We were able to leverage some COVID funds that were made available for this purpose, and through on-hold and strategic purchases, we were able to integrate and format and distribute them. “
Other counties that were not one-on-one before the pandemic have also achieved this status, including Lewis, Mason and Taylor.
Crystalle Doyle, technology coordinator for Mason County Schools, said that although high school students in the county have been one-on-one since 2017, it was only recently that the county could afford to buy Chromebooks for the entire student body.
“[The pandemic] played a major role in keeping our basic Chromebooks and everyone else newer and up to date to take home, ”Doyle said. “It would have been less likely that this would be sustainable [without the pandemic]. There is only so much money.
However, in many cases, sending tablets or laptops home with students has not been enough to achieve the digital connectivity that school systems are looking for.
Jeff Tidd, chief technology officer for Lewis County Schools, said many students do not yet have internet access at home, which is why the state and counties have installed hotspots. Wi-Fi to allow students to work and submit assignments virtually. if needed.
“Lewis County is a rural community and we understood from the start that not all students would have access to the Internet at home,” Tidd said. “We’ve partnered with our community to provide county-wide Wi-Fi locations for students to drive and complete their work or download it for offline use. In addition, the state [Kids Connect] The initiative allowed us to extend our school’s Wi-Fi to school parking lots, so that students can also drive and access the internet. …
“In addition to these options, students who do not have Internet at home and do not have transportation to access the Internet in the community or school can contact the Communities contact in the schools of their school for coordinate an Internet access point at their home. “
But even with the Wi-Fi hotspots dotting the state, that still can’t be enough. In Pocahontas County, for example, only high school and eighth graders currently have access to take-out devices.
As the school system seeks more funds to cover the rest of the student body, the rural nature of Pocahontas County and the presence of the Green Bank Observatory has made it difficult to access the internet or even the service of mobile telephony for a large percentage of residents. , according to Ruth Bland, technology coordinator for Pocahontas County Schools.
“When you have a wireless access point, you have some sort of wireless access that lights up that thing, whether it’s through cellular service or through a wireless connection in a building,” Bland said. “We have Kids Connect in all our schools except Green Bank [Elementary and Middle School]. The problem is, Green Bank’s student body comes from 50% of the geographic region of the county.
“You’re basically envisioning a 10 mile radius around that range that may not have the best home internet service, or even no internet service at all. “
Bland said it would be difficult to install more hotspots for students, both due to the cost and the limited amount of services available in the county.
“It wasn’t cost effective to be able to get the hot spots because the cell towers we have have low transmission because of the observatory,” Bland said. “You end up with a hotspot that has terrible service.”
Finally, another problem that these counties face is the maintenance of their individual relationship with the students. While COVID-19 funding has helped counties pay a wholesale price to get them to reach their goal, that money will eventually dry up and the counties themselves will have to foot the bill for the replacements.
While it can be difficult for counties, it is not impossible. Schools in Marion County, for example, have managed to get enough Chromebooks to go one-on-one with students and have created a sustainability plan that aims to replace devices every four or five years.
That means, each year through at least 2026, the county estimates it will spend more than $ 500,000 to maintain and replace devices for students.
Sondra Lambiotte, director of technology for Taylor County Schools, has a similar plan, adding that before the pandemic, the county did not have enough devices to send each of its 2,400 students home with a tablet . However, replacing the devices that need them is a much less daunting task than buying them all at once.
“I had a five-year plan in 2018 or 2019 to try to achieve a face to face,” Lambiotte said. “What (pandemic funding) has allowed us to do is, in my planning, it has given us a cushion. When I did my tech budget and planning, it gave me some leeway for local funding and levy funding to develop a plan to keep these replacements on a regular schedule. It’s much easier to do it now than to start from scratch.
Fairmont News Editor-in-Chief John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or [email protected]