SLSD receives grant for remote learning

The South Lane School District (SLSD) is among seven districts which have received a grant which will help deliver crucial services to families as Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) is implemented as a new model of education this fall.

“When we are going to be doing CDL for so many of our students to start the year, it’s imperative that they have a device and connectivity,” said Assistant Superintendent Brian McCasline.

To address the issues of the digital divide exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, CDW-G, Intel Corporation and the LEGO Foundation have joined with equal education nonprofit First Book in the Creating Learning Connections Grant.

The grant provides holistic learning support designed to fuel education by supporting several thousand students and families in Title I schools in the United States impacted by the pandemic.

Students will receive at-home and in–the-classroom learning resources, including internet connectivity, technology devices and hands-on STEAM learning solutions, to help students build confidence and 21st-century skills.

Through this initiative, Intel and CDW-G are providing a total of $5 million in personal computers, software, configuration services and digital learning resources.

They are also providing stipends of $4,000 to each awarded district to address home internet connectivity for kids in need, finances SLSD intends to make good use of.

Following a spring semester in which schools were still adapting to a rapidly shifting public health environment, the district has been quick to point out it has achieved a higher level of preparedness for the new school year.

“We were made aware that there’s a great need for our families to have access to technology,” said McCasline.

First Book recently released the results of a nationwide survey of their network of more than 475,000 educators that shows 40 percent of children in need do not have reliable internet and almost 40 percent are without access to functioning devices.

In Cottage Grove, school district communication with families since pandemic restrictions set in has revealed that many are in need of devices and internet access to participate in distance learning.

Just shy of 900 Chromebook were distributed to families in a district of roughly 2,600 students in the spring and following surveys have seen requests for around 600 more. 

The grant will help supply fully-configured Chromebooks to families still in need of these devices.

Still, a recent survey conducted by the district has found that just under 10 percent of families do not have internet connections in their homes. To address this, the district is using its $4,000 to set up more than 100 hotspots for households with reliable cell service.

Even with these efforts, however, some families are predicted to still be in need of assistance.

“All of our families need access,” said McCasline. “So what we’re going to do for families that can’t access it with their own connectivity, that can’t access it through our hotspots and that can’t access it by purchasing their own internet plan … Then we’re busing them into school and we’re going to provide access to technology at our schools.”

Limited in-person instruction is allowed under current regulations. As along as certain COVID-19 infection metrics are met, exceptions are made for students under certain categories such as Eng-lish-language learners, special education students and those without internet access.

K-3 students are also allowed in-person education as part of this exception.

“There should be no student that says, ‘I can’t access because I don’t have technology,’” said McCasline.

Additionally, the LEGO Foundation is donating $2 million-worth of LEGO Education solutions to support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) learning at home and in school through the grant program.

From this, SLSD is receiving 300 sets to offer students grades K-8 a playful STEAM learning experience based on LEGO machine sets.

In all, the addition of the devices, connectivity access and materials will help create the underlying framework for a CDL model which as seen about 70 people put in more than 900 hours of planning and development work for both distance and hybrid learning.

“When we’re given the ability to plan ahead, obviously we can do a much better job of distancing learning than in the spring,” said McCasline.

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