CHARLES TOWN — More so than in a normal school year, technology has become a vital part of the educational climate during the COVID-19 outbreak.
During Monday night’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson gave an update on technology for the coming school year as the student population splits between a virtual or traditional pathway for learning.
Gibson praised the staff and IT departments for their work to put the school system in a good situation with devices for students. The IT department has been working to convert 1,500 Acers into Chromebooks, and the district has another 700 in warehouse that are ready to be distributed to students who need them.
She also praised the staff for working to receive CARES Act funding from the state to aid in acquiring the needed amount of devices and other necessities that will allow for those on the virtual platform to have the same access as students who are in the buildings.
“I am very happy to say that I got a notice on Saturday that we were awarded a $450,000 grant from the West Virginia Department of Education for additional Chromebooks for connectivity for our students, the purchase of hot spots should they be needed and the training of teachers on social-emotional support,” Gibson said. “In addition, it pays for the background checks and training for a cohort of Shepherd University students who they have a program for students who don’t have the same opportunities for internships that they normally do and are interested in mentoring Jefferson County Schools students and providing some social and emotional support and connection during this time for kids in virtual who may feel very disconnected.
“They will be subject to background checks and undergo training with our staff to hold supervised social-emotional support and connection visits with our kids. It’s a great partnership.”
Gibson is happy with the number of devices the district will have ready for students in need, saying they will be distributed on a tiered system until JCS runs out or reaches a 1-to-1 ratio. The first students to receive a device will be ones without any who are taking the virtual route, followed by those who have devices but not enough for each child in the family. Families with devices that aren’t adequate will then be accommodated.
Gov. Jim Justice announced in a recent press conference the state will be offering WiFi hot spots to ease virtual learning for those who are without reliable internet access but not wanting to take the traditional path. Gibson said those will be coming to the county shortly.
“They have committed to having community access wireless points in every single county,” she said. “They have informed us that they will be sending a technology team and that every single school that we have, they will be installing external-facing wireless access points that will still have the state department of education’s filtering system on them.
“Any family that can get to one of our schools, we will have designated areas in our parking lots, near our buildings. As the governor stated, that service is open to both K-12 students and college students.”