Valley Schools Work to Conquer Digital Divide
The Daily Item

Original post from The Daily Item

By: Justin Strawser

Valley School District officials consider it important for students to have access to the Internet and be able to use computers and other digital technology.

The Shikellamy and Midd-West districts both have one-to-one programs in which students are given laptops or Chromebooks for use at school and home.

“For students to have 21st-century skills, they have to have access to technology,” Shikellamy’s director of education Abbey Walshaw-Wertz said. “We feel it is our responsibility to have a safe environment for students to do that.”

Joe Stroup, director of curriculum for Midd-West, agreed.

“That is the future of our country as far as communications and jobs,” he said. “You have to be able to be efficient and effective. Technology allows you to do that.”

At Shikellamy, each student in grades nine through 12 is given a Chromebook to work with at home. If they do not have Internet at home, they are given time to download materials at school so they can be accessed on the computer while at home. When the students come back into school, the computers connect and submit their work for them.

The Chromebook program is a four-year lease costing $175,000. This cost covers Chrome Books for both the middle and high schools, Walshaw-Wertz said.

It’s similar at Midd-West. Each student in grades eight through 12 is given a laptop and also given time throughout the day to download materials if there is no Internet access at home.

According to recent surveys, approximately 80 percent of Shikellamy students and 85 percent of Midd-West students have Internet access at home. Stroup said Midd-West believes that number is approaching 90 percent now.

“We didn’t think it would be that high,” Walshaw-Wertz said. “We were expecting more of a problem.”

The survey also revealed that many Shikellamy students don’t have their own devices at home, which is what the Chromebook program helps solve, she said.

For students who don’t have Internet access at home, Walshaw-Wertz recommends student use a public library, Dunkin Donuts or other places with public WiFi. Stroup said he recommends students use the WiFi at each of the schools if they are close enough or come sit at the picnic tables.

At Midd-West, cyber school students who meet academic requirements are provided a signal boost, for which the cost is reimbursable, Stroup said.

At the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, spokeswoman Jennifer Spotts said the regional education service agency strives to create solutions and leverage resources that supports local schools in terms of technology.

Two years ago, the CSIU partnered with 12 school districts in the region for a BrightBytes Clarity for Schools survey to learn from students and staff about access to technology, skills and related factors in the school environment. Those districts were Bloomsburg, Central Columbia, Lewisburg, Midd-West, Mifflinburg, Millville, Milton, Mount Carmel, Selinsgrove, Shamokin, Shikellamy and Warrior Run.

The CSIU Special Education Department also uses BrightBytes to survey CSIU teachers of special education classroom programs on their needs for professional development and technology in the classroom for instructional purposes.

“Because of the rapid growth rate of technology, annually we explore different ways to offer instruction that will reach as many students as possible and according to their needs,” CSIU Special Education Director Jennifer Williams said. “The data we collect through BrightBytes informs our decisions.”

She said that while the CSIU does not provide Internet access to students in their homes, the devices students acquire to assist them with communicating in their everyday life are theirs to use in school as well as at home.

Also, in partnership with the Hybrid Learning Institute, Spotts said the CSIU has assisted districts with securing grants to implement the station-rotation model of instruction. This model provides opportunities to personalize learning for students, offers small-group instruction and offers the use of technology to further the understanding and acquisition of skills and concepts.

The CSIU also provides on-site instructional coaching to districts that are part of the initiative, which includes support in using technology in the classroom. The eight districts participating in the Hybrid Learning Institute are Bloomsburg, Midd-West, Mifflinburg, Millville, Milton, Mount Carmel, Selinsgrove and Warrior Run.