“We have one-to-one, but the students may or may not have internet at their homes, and more than likely, since we’re a Title I school, they do not have it,” Bullard says.
For nearby Columbus Municipal, also a Title I district, a lack of connectivity posed a major problem when schools shut down last year. Hundreds of the district’s students whose families did not have internet access had only pen and paper for remote learning.
With CARES Act funding, Aberdeen and Columbus Municipal purchased hotspots and other solutions for disconnected families. Vicksburg Warren School District, which spans a hilly, rugged area along the Mississippi River, also used federal funding to address its connectivity challenges. It rushed to distribute Wi-Fi hotspots to 120 students in areas where internet access, municipal water and sewer service aren’t widely available, says Wade Grant, educational technology director.
It also helped families living within the AT&T service area apply for income-based subsidies to get internet installed at home so students could log on for classes.
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Funding Allows Districts to Make Strategic Upgrades
Funding also allowed Title I districts to make other upgrades that led to meaningful digital transformations. Columbus Municipal directed $2.2 million in CARES aid to expand its one-to-one device program. It purchased 2,653 new HP ProBook x360 G6 EE 2-in-1 laptops for all students in pre-K through eighth grade, as well as learning management system licenses, says J.C. Lawton, director of information systems. Previously, only high school students had individual devices.
Before the pandemic, Columbus Municipal’s network was designed to handle regular daily traffic. However, to handle the coming influx of student devices this fall, the district worked with Cisco to replace switches, a firewall and uninterruptible power supply devices. It also purchased portable Wi-Fi hotspots, outdoor wireless access points and cellular routers for buses for remote learning, Lawton says.
Aberdeen also upgraded bandwidth and wireless arrays and will integrate Promethean interactive whiteboards in classrooms. The changes will enable more students to participate in new programs such as Advanced Placement computer science, as well as a new video production class this fall.
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Budget Wins Lead to IT Upgrades
Vicksburg Warren might be one of the few Title I districts in Mississippi to have a major IT system upgrade before the pandemic. When Grant started about five years ago, the district was inundated with problems stemming from reliance on older desktop equipment and unmanaged switches. He initiated a districtwide network upgrade that relied on federal E-Rate and district funds, a successful bandwidth upgrade request to the state, and a one-to-one Chromebook program at the high school and at a middle school STEM academy.
The superintendent and school board recognized that “employment for tomorrow is going to require our students to be able to use technology in some form or another in just about every field that we can imagine,” Grant says, and they have prioritized budgeting for it over the past several years. The district also saved money by switching from onsite to cloud-based service management, which limits traveling technician contracts.
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