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The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards, sponsored by Trox, highlights inspiring examples of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A district gets creative as it distributes iPads to students during lockdown

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards, sponsored by Trox, highlights inspiring examples of education during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and that means educators across the globe are still finding inventive and innovative ways to support and teach students in classrooms, during hybrid instruction, and in virtual settings.

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards program, sponsored by Trox, recognizes the determined and dedicated efforts of educators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Never before have educators been challenged and tested as they were, beginning in March 2020 and up until today, and never before has their resilience been more apparent. Administrators, technology leaders, classroom teachers, and educators in all roles have persevered as they taught each and every one of their students during a global pandemic.

Here, eSchool News highlights Kanawha County Schools–one of its K-12 Hero Awards finalists. Keep reading to discover how this district keeps learning going in the middle of a global pandemic.

Nominee: Kanawha County Schools

Nominated by: Second Life Mac

What makes this nominee a hero?

Kanawha County Schools in Charleston, W.Va., covers about 900 square miles, and some of that area is rural. The district has just over 25,000 students in grades pre-K to 12 in 68 schools, and about 1,800 teachers plus support staff.

When the state’s governor made the decision to close schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district was on spring break. Leah Sparks, executive director of technology for Kanawha County Schools, was concerned that the schools might not re-open during the school year.

The Kanawha district provides iPads for each student in grades 4-12. In addition, many of the district’s elementary schools used Title 1 funds to purchase 1:1 devices for students as young as kindergarten.

Only students in grades 6 and up are allowed to take their devices home. This meant that many students didn’t have a device at home when the school closures were announced. It also threw a wrench into plans to refresh the district’s fleet of aging digital learning devices.

Sparks immediately started spearheading a plan to distribute iPads to students who needed them, as well as to students who had turned in broken devices. Her team distributed devices to kids in several different ways, including sending them on school buses with meal deliveries.

One roadblock Sparks encountered was internet access. About 93 percent of Kanawha students report having Wi-Fi at home, so that left some students without an internet connection and a way to access lessons. Sparks’ team worked with local internet companies to offer free service to families in need, and also promoted Wi-Fi hotspots available at each of the district’s buildings. Buses also were equipped with Wi-Fi so they could be deployed as mobile hot spots.

With many of the district’s students learning remotely, getting older iPad returned and upgraded was going to be complicated. Students and staff needed to social distance, and school administrators were nervous about collecting devices that could possibly transmit the virus.

Sparks partnered with Second Life Mac to develop a safe way to collect and refresh devices. Using Second Life Mac’s Touchless Trade-in™ process, students with school-owned devices received a unique QR code on their iPad that was scanned during a drive-through trade in event.

The QR code identified the student and the device, and recorded that the device had been returned. The old device was placed on a conveyer belt from the student’s vehicle, and it was received at the other end by a rep. New devices were handed out by another rep.

Used devices were sealed in boxes and sent back to the Second Life Mac warehouse, where the devices were sanitized, all data was removed to NIST standards, and devices were refurbished and resold via wholesale and retail channels.

Leah Sparks’ leadership during the pandemic illustrates how she put the safety of her students first while providing them with updated learning tools.

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Laura Ascione

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