Alexandria, VA

As of Monday, Alexandria City Public Schools will have issued more than 1,200 mobile hotspots to families without internet access and more than 12,000 Chromebook laptop computers to students to keep them learning throughout the COVID-19 shut down until the end of the year.

Making sure that students have access to their teachers and modified curriculums has been an unprecedented logistical puzzle that took a lot of work for ACPS Chief Technology Officer Elizabeth Hoover and her team to accomplish.

“It’s not just giving someone the internet,” Hoover said. “They’re going through our filter, and we manage the hours and we can manage the data so there’s a shared data pool. And some of our households have six kids, and they need more data. This way we can allocate data by the need and by the size of the household.”

ACPS students have had laptops since 2004, and the school system estimates there are about 600 households with more than 1,200 students who need help with internet access. The school system ended up buying an additional 700 Kajeets mobile hotspot devices (on top of the 500 that were previously distributed earlier in the year), and started mailing them with letters in multiple languages to families today. The hotspots are expected to be delivered Monday.

There are more than 15,700 students in the school system, and the additional equipment and data plans reportedly cost ACPS $150,000, of which $16,000 was raised by parent teacher associations, according to an ACPS spokesperson.

“What kept me up at night for the last month is figuring out how do we… make sure that our kids are engaged with their teachers?” Hoover said. “And it’s not just an instruction it’s also social, emotional, having that that support of their being able to see their through their friends and see their teachers.”

ACPS is going to need to get the equipment back at some point, and staff are considering letting students keep with throughout the summer.

“It will be it will definitely be different because, when or if the traditional school year starts back in the fall we will certainly need to collect and prepare and clean and make sure that they’re all ready to go,” Hoover said. “That may be a challenge, but I think we saw other ones that are much bigger than that.”

Hoover’s biggest challenge was identifying families without internet access.

“That took a lot of work from schools and social workers to help us do that. That’s been a challenge,” she said. “Now, I think we have a better idea of our actual numbers of students that do not have internet access. Times like this are time opportunities for innovation, and we need to look at different ways we can get our students internet access on a permanent basis.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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