Published on August 8th, 2020 📆 | 7249 Views ⚑0
Montgomery County schools invest in technology for distance learning
Photo: Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
As classes are moved online, Montgomery County schools are investing in technology for students in need.
After schools were closed in March, Lone Star College decided to move as many classes online as possible. This coming semester, about half of its classes will be completely online, about 25 percent will be a mix of online and in-class, and another 25 percent will be in-class only starting Sept. 8.
To make sure that students have access to their online classes the college system is using funding from the federal CARES Act to purchase 6,000 laptops that will be given to students who need them.
“A lot of students may have technology but not exactly what they need,” said Link Alander, LSC vice chancellor of College Services for LSC. “So, as we see the demand coming in we’ll adjust and try our best to keep up with it.”
The college system is working on helping students get reliable access to the internet with WiFi hotspots as well, and are making sure the laptops going out will have the necessary software for the student’s needs.
Students can apply for a laptop on the LSC website. Since turning on the application last week, Alander said the college system has already received 1,000 applicants. In order to receive a laptop, a student will need to be enrolled for at least six hours and have a completed federal or state financial aid form, and they will need to maintain a 2.0 GPA. Students could be keeping the laptop for multiple semesters.
“The intent of this program is, as long as they’re enrolled they keep that laptop in their possession,” Alander said.
The reason LSC chose this response, Alander said, is because the chancellors recognized how lack of access to technology, also known as the digital divide, could be a major hindrance for students.
“The COVID impact is really deepening that divide,” Alander said. “Those students that don’t have access to technology now they can’t even go to school, they can’t complete their degrees. So, as the board and the chancellor and the presidents discussed this it really became evident that we had to be active, we had to do something proactive to help our students.”
The divide starts long before college. Local districts are also in the process of trying to get technology into the hands of students who need them, at nearly all age levels.
With help from the Texas Education Agency and the Operation Connectivity Grant, Splendora ISD is in the process of ordering around 2,200 Chromebooks for students in the district, and 100 additional hot spot devices to help offer WiFi.
“We were able to get devices to people that needed them when we did this in the Spring but we wanted to make sure that we had enough for on-campus support as well,” said Splendora ISD superintendent Jeff Burke.
Conroe ISD has spent $2 million on remote learning/technology/ and communication in response to COVID-19, including purchasing thousands of Chromebooks. The district is not at a one-to-one ratio when it comes to supplying technology to each student, it just doesn’t have the money or resources, at least not now.
The reality is that while the district has ordered a lot of new technology to help bridge the gap, so has every other district in the nation, Superintendent Curtis Null said. CISD is still waiting for some of its orders but did manage to get some new technology by ordering early, back in March.
Avenue to learning
But Null, like all educators, recognizes the digital divide and knows that this crisis is likely to only increase it. The lack of internet infrastructure in parts of Montgomery County is a motivator for many families to send their students back to in-class instruction. For the first three weeks of school, Null said there will be lots of flexibility for families facing challenges to the online instruction model.
“What’s not flexible is we want students learning, school starts on August 12 and our expectation is that students will be learning every single day,” Null said.
But he sees the opportunity for technology to be a bridge as well, connecting students to worlds and knowledge beyond their own. Part of the ramp-up process for the first three weeks will include trying to address the many divides that exist in schools. This year will not only have to address exacerbated gaps that have always existed but also address gaps from the March to May distance learning model.
“We know that that was not a perfect system,” Null said. “We’re thankful for our teachers who did the best they could in a very difficult situation to immediately shift to an online platform, and yet we couldn’t give them access to our buildings and all of our resources to really do that. Now they have access to buildings and all their resources and they’ll be using all of those resources to fill in those gaps that may have formed in the spring.”