“We are very fortunate that we’ve been using online-learning software like Lexia and Dreambox for our literacy and math curriculum before the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” Director of Education Amy Brewer explains.
“But what’s the point of all that if they don’t have a way to access it? We had to figure out how our kiddos were going to get some devices…and fast.”
Distance learning during the pandemic was challenging for most school systems, but for our kiddos and families, there were a lot of barriers including access to technology and internet that other schools may not have to take into consideration. There’s an assumption – families can provide their own devices. But for our families, that is often not the case.
Challenge No. 1: What devices would they use?
Families experiencing homelessness typically don’t have spare laptops and tablets lying around. Positive Tomorrows determined we could set up the existing Chromebooks in our classrooms to be sent to all kiddos. We knew that we may not get all the Chromebooks back – families experiencing homelessness have higher mobility rates, meaning they move around more – or there was the risk of them coming back damaged. Ultimately, we determined that the end goal of keeping our kiddos engaged and educated was worth the risk.
We had our wonderful IT gurus at CoNexient program the laptops to make them ready for offsite use by our kiddos. The week of April 13, we were able to begin delivering them to our families.
Before all the Chromebooks were delivered though, Positive Tomorrows was working on addressing other barriers related to distance learning.
Challenge No. 2: How do they get online?
Sure, we could send the Chromebooks to the kiddos, but another assumption was that they would be able to access the internet to use these online-learning tools. Many of our families don’t have internet access – some never even having had it before. So we worked on creating partnerships with Cox Communications and AT&T to get our families online through low-cost internet access and mobile hotspots. Click here to read more about these partnerships.
Challenge No. 3: How do they stay on track?
Once we get Chromebooks and devices in the hands of our kiddos, and their families have internet access for them to get online to learn, the last piece falls to our education staff. Our teachers have already been engaging kiddos and families through lesson packets sent home in weekly food boxes. They had already been communicating with some families through private Facebook groups for each class.
They were also preparing for how they wanted to start teaching using our curriculum once all the major hurdles of technology and internet access were cleared.
The teachers have been working together on a plan of where they and the students would be going with distance learning and are taking things week by week. They will make adjustments if something isn’t working, but our kiddos are at higher risk of falling even more behind if they don’t have access to these tools, so just getting all this set up is really a huge step for their success.
“One teacher shared with us that one of her students completed 100 HOURS of reading in Lexia after getting her Chromebook last week! Another student moved up TWO levels in Lexia. We’re planning how we’re going to get her Lexia reading certificates delivered!” – Amy Brewer, Director of Education