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Borrowed laptops boost online learning program

C&G Newspapers | Published April 25, 2020

Bringing the classroom home for thousands of Utica Community Schools students has been an unprecedented challenge, but a laptop lending program is helping to make it a possibility, school officials say.

Since the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus led state officials to shut down classrooms in March, UCS educators have feverishly worked to get an online learning program in place. At this point, school officials believe that the rest of the in-class school year is over, though students still need to learn online in the meantime in order to fulfill state requirements. 

To ensure that the technology is accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, UCS started getting a laptop loaning program into place. 

According to UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy, over 2,000 computers, many of them Dell and Lenovo laptops, have been distributed and loaned through the program, starting around mid-April. They were distributed at the Instructional Resource Center; Eisenhower, Henry Ford II and Utica high schools; Davis and Jeannette junior high schools; and Duncan and West Utica elementary schools.  

Ford Principal Lori Singleton was on-site during the laptop distribution and said it was a great opportunity for families to make sure their children’s online learning succeeds.

“I was there every day that we had it,” she said. “Many parents were very grateful and excited.”

Singleton explained that some families in need didn’t lack a computer at home, but if a household had four or five children, they needed enough devices to allow more than one student to learn simultaneously. She said school staff also informed parents about how to use the laptops effectively for online instruction.

“We also gave them instructions on how to sign in …  not just giving them the devices, but also offering support as well,” Singleton said.

UCS Superintendent Christine Johns said the laptops had normally been used in the school buildings.

“They were in our schools across our 40 sites,” Johns said. “Now we’re just going to give them to students to use at home.”

Johns said the school district uses the Schoology learning management system, adding that the education platform’s popularity has grown amid the sudden nationwide demand for online learning. 

She said families will eventually be expected to return the laptops so the district may use them again next school year. But for now, she hopes that the devices will connect students with their teachers.

Johns thanked the district’s teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and food service workers for their “extraordinary” work. She encouraged students to fully engage with their online classwork, and for parents with any questions about the laptops or online learning to email the district.

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org.