Gadsden County Public Schools’ new distance learning initiative is getting a powerful, chrome-plated boost this week in the form of 1,000 shiny new laptop computers earmarked for local students.
At a time when students are homebound due to state-mandated school closures, barred from assembling in classrooms for face-to-face instruction, Gadsden County, like much of the nation, is looking to technology to facilitate continuity in education for the young men and women under its charge – taking the classroom to students via broadband internet and cutting edge tech devices, instead of students flocking to local classrooms, as has been the traditional modus operandi for public education for generations. But high tech often comes at a high cost, and in one of the poorest public school districts in the state, local education leaders know that laptops, tablets, high speed internet and other technology required for remote instruction aren’t a given staple of many households struggling to afford basic needs like food and electricity. In order to bridge the financial gap – ensuring students in households of all income levels are privy to equal learning opportunities – Gadsden County Public Schools officials asked the state for help acquiring and delivering tech devices required for distance learning to local students in need. Thanks to the efforts of Governor Ron DeSantis, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and Chancellor Jacob Oliva of Gadsden County Public Schools – as well as a partnership with the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) local educators’ pleas were answered last week with the delivery of 1,000 Google “Chromebook” laptop computers to Gadsden County district offices. These digital devices will allow students in local schools to continue their educational studies while confined to their homes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gadsden County Superintendent of Schools Roger Milton says in a prepared statement.
Gadsden County School Board Chairwoman Audrey Lewis said she was “very pleased” with the Chromebook announcement and extended gratitude toward PAEC for its help getting this “much-needed technology into the hands of our students.” In addition to the free hardware devices, multiple internet service providers in Gadsden County and across the nation have stepped up to provide free high-speed internet access for students in need over the coming months.
“Even though we are far apart from our students at this time, this will help us close some of the social distancing gaps,” Lewis states in a news release.
In the same prepared statement, issued by the district earlier this week, Superintendent Milton explains in detail why the recent 1K- strong Chromebook award is so uniquely vital in this uniquely challengengin education climate;
“The Chromebooks are critical for the district to fully implement the GCPS Instructional Continuity Plan to provide education to students through distance learning. With falling public education revenues, Gadsden County, like many districts, was not at a 1:1 digital device ratio when this crisis hit. The laptops will be prioritized to provide GCPS students who do not have any electronic devices access to at least one in the home.
Distance learning is now a part of the overall landscape of education across the nation. While not the preferred way of learning for students, especially younger ones, it does allow students to continue their studies while they are waiting to return to regular classrooms. School districts across the nation have been rushing to find enough digital devices to accommodate all the students being forced to stay home until this crisis passes. The federal and state government have been very flexible in allowing districts to use all available state and federal resources to ensure that every student confined to home will have access to a digital device and Internet connections necessary to continue their studies.
However, with everyone in the nation ordering devices and putting pressure on vendors for quick turnarounds, there are not enough devices available to put one in every child’s hand immediately. Many vendors are in the position of waiting on parts that come from countries also afflicted with this virus so shipment times are greatly extended making manufacturing slower and delaying getting devices in children’s hands immediately.
Students, staff, and parents have indeed risen to the occasion. Problem solving and critical thinking have been the mother of invention for staff to learn how to teach and facilitate learning with digital devices. Parents are learning alongside children to effectively use technology and Google classrooms to help their children keep from regressing in their studies. While there are a lot of negatives that go along with closed classrooms, there are also some good things coming out of this situation. Stronger family connections are being built. Communities are working closer together. Teachers are learning right alongside school leaders, students, and parents to operate in a more digital world.”
Echoing and summing up the superintendent’s sentiments, Board of Education Chair Lewis adds, “While we are anxious for our children and teachers to return to the regular classrooms, we are doing everything necessary so that students can continue to learn. This is a time for everyone to work together to help students. We can’t tell you how proud we are of our students, parents, staff, community, PAEC, and state education officials for working together to provide solutions in this time of need.”
Last but not least, Lewis continues, the district would like to thank Deputy Commissioner Dr. Andre Smith for personally delivering the devices to our district. Stay up to date on shifting distance learning protocols by visiting the district’s Facebook page (search “Gadsden County Public Schools”).
Special to The Herald