Ensuring all students have equal access to the technology necessary to succeed in the current remote learning environment has been a primary concern for educators across the country. Atlantis has made good use of the resources at its disposal to set up students and staff for at-home learning, but additional resources will be necessary for long-term success with remote learning.
Prior to school closures, Atlantis surveyed students and found that approximately 90 percent reported having access to a device (computer, laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) at home. However, the number of families that needed a school Chromebook was much higher when you consider devices are often shared with siblings who also need to access online classes and parents who are working remotely from home.
Once schools closed, Atlantis distributed Chromebooks to families. As of today, over 350 students have picked up a Chromebook. Atlantis has also provided devices to staff who needed one to fulfill responsibilities. Currently all teachers in grades 7-12 and Special Education, Title I, and ELL teachers in grades K-6 have a laptop. However, much of the staff is still relying on personal computer devices and phones to fulfill daily responsibilities.
“Our staff and families have been incredibly flexible and resourceful throughout this remote learning process,” said Gabriela Birmingham, district leader at Atlantis. “As we move forward, it will be important for us to continue to update and expand our technology for staff and students to ensure a robust and seamless long-term remote learning plan.”
Educators across the country are exploring multiple options as they try to predict what a return to school will look like in the fall. It is impossible to know what will happen in the coming weeks and months. Schools may need to continue remote learning in some form next school year.
“To prepare for the future, we are going to have to make a significant investment in new resources,” said Robert Beatty, executive director of Atlantis. “Having devices that meet the technology needs of all students and staff will be critical to a well-functioning remote learning plan that will serve us both now and in the long-run when the pandemic is over. It will also be necessary to invest in new software and other related services.”
In order to continue remote learning in the near-term, Atlantis will have to fill in existing gaps in resources. The school is considering purchasing new computers for students to facilitate online learning both in the classroom and at home. Upgrading teacher technology is high on the list of priorities as well. Every teacher will need a new laptop with a camera to provide “face to face” instruction and participate in virtual meetings and trainings with staff. Ideally, paraprofessionals will receive new laptops with cameras as well to continue to support teachers with student feedback on assignments, inputting grades, and communicating with families. Clerical and support staff will also need computers to efficiently perform their job functions.
Atlantis may have to assist families that do not have internet access at home. Currently many internet providers are offering free or reduced-price internet options due to the pandemic, but it is unknown how long those offers will last.
Teachers are going to need additional training and professional development in online resources and educational platforms and in best practices in remote learning planning. It may also be necessary to provide families with a tech support service to troubleshoot problems with the computers and instructional websites.
Atlantis is also trialing various subscription services, online course offerings, and a HIPPA-compliant interactive therapy platform for OT and speech and language services.
The biggest challenge the school faces is planning for these investments amid unprecedented budget uncertainty. Public schools do not know what the state funding picture will look like next year, and probably won’t for some time. On the one hand, Massachusetts—like all states—will certainly face revenue shortfalls heading into the next fiscal year. On the other hand, making sure schools have the resources necessary to reopen safely is clearly a priority and essential for economic recovery.
To solve this issue in the near term, Atlantis is applying for state and federal grants and reaching out to its philanthropic partners to ensure the necessary immediate steps happen without delay. “We simply can’t afford to wait on some of these priorities,” Beatty said.
We are living in an uncertain time. No one can see in the future, but, with careful planning and effective partnerships, we can continue to provide our students with an education second to none, regardless of whether learning takes place in the classroom or at home.