The Intel-led HELP Team is by no means the only ed-tech coalition delivering aid to Gulf Coast schools and their students in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Another effort that is making a difference is vSKOOL.

A consortium of education organizations, for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and foundations, vSKOOL was launched last Sept. 7 by Cable in the Classroom and the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) to provide educational assistance to K-12 students, educators, and families displaced by the storms.

vSKOOL originally stood for Victims and Students of Katrina: Opportunities for Online Learning. Then, Hurricane Rita hit. Consequently, members just began to use the acronym vSKOOL to refer to the coalition.

During the Gulf Coast recovery and rebuilding efforts, vSKOOL has helped displaced students find traditional and virtual-school programs to enroll in; located highly qualified teachers to volunteer to teach or tutor affected students in face-to-face and online settings; solicited corporate and foundation support, such as through scholarships, to help give students access to educational products and services; and encouraged computer hardware, software, and infrastructure providers to contribute equipment toward creating learning centers that provide access to online courses and other ed-tech products and services, among other activities.

The group’s web site, which is managed by Cable in the Classroom, “creates an opportunity to address real and immediate needs brought on by the recent hurricanes; [it’s] a centralized source that will work with the affected states to ensure that offers of help are aligned with real needs. This is a terrific example of how technology can play a vital role in education–reaching out across boundaries to fulfill the educational needs of America’s students in the greatest need,” said Melinda George, former executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), another vSKOOL partner, soon after the coalition was formed.

The site also offers many links and resources to help children cope with natural disasters, as well as information about hurricanes, how they form, and how they work.

vSKOOL is helping to put schools, teachers, students, and others in touch with various learning aids and opportunities.

As of press time, for example, at least 19 mobile learning labs have been donated to school districts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas through the coalition’s efforts. Each learning lab includes 16 Dell Latitude laptops, a Dell laser printer, a Datamation mobile laptop cart, a wireless access point, three years of Dell technical support, Microsoft products, Adobe products, assistance from Intel, and other software donated by vSKOOL members.

Each school system’s eligibility for support was determined by how severely it was affected by the storms. The coalition conferred with state education departments to pinpoint the most severely affected areas. “Severely affected” in this case meant that the school or district was greatly damaged by one of the storms, or that it was serving a large number of displaced students from other hurricane-ravaged districts.

In addition, recipients of donated learning labs and other equipment were required to be “ready” to receive the technology and put it to immediate and effective use. In most cases, that meant an instructional technology coordinator within the school or district was ready with a plan to integrate the lab directly into instruction.

The first 15 donated labs were deployed last December and January in five of the most severely affected districts in each of the three states. In Louisiana, the Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, and Vermilion Parishes received the mobile labs. In Mississippi, the Biloxi, Moss Point, Pascagoula, Bay-Waveland, and Pass Christian School Districts received the labs. In Texas, the Buna, Deweyville, Nederland, Sabine Pass, and Spurger Independent School Districts received the labs.

“Now these schools can bring the mobile computer carts from classroom to classroom, giving more students access to technology and information,” said Karen Bruett, vice president of Dell’s K-12 business. “This donation is an example of how a global company like Dell can help enable local benefits to customers and communities. We encourage other companies and organizations to help us revitalize these schools by donating any products or services they can.”

“These mobile labs provide students with critical access to educational content, both in their classrooms and from the internet, that had been unavailable since the storms,” said Helen Soulé, executive director of Cable in the Classroom. “They also demonstrate the powerful role that technology and online resources can play in restoring educational programs after disasters threaten to disrupt learning.”

Four more learning labs were secured for the Lamar County School District in Mississippi and for the St. Charles, Terrebonne, and Vermilion Parishes in Louisiana. These were delivered in April and May.

In addition, vSKOOL is helping other severely damaged school districts obtain mobile learning labs and other new or refurbished computer equipment at a discounted price through its web site. The group also has helped students displaced by the storms take classes online at discounted rates through vSKOOL contributing organizations.

Besides Cable in the Classroom, NACOL, and SETDA, vSKOOL co-organizers include the Consortium for School Networking, the Education Industry Association, the International Society for Technology in Education, Elliott Masie’s Learning Consortium, and the Software and Information Industry Association. vSKOOL also has partnered with the U.S. Department of Education in offering help for schools and students affected by the hurricanes.

Links:

vSKOOL
http://www.vskool.org

vSKOOL Blog
http://www.vskool.org/www/vskoolblog.html

vSKOOL contributing organizations
http://www.vskool.org/organizations.html