After a year that was challenged by COVID and a large group of students in the district without access to a computer or the internet, USD 259 has taken steps to close the digital divide.
Describing it as a momentous occasion, that almost bought her to tears, USD 259 Supt. Alicia Thompson announced the approval by the Wichita School board to invest $24 million to make sure every child in the district has access to a computer and the internet.
“So if our students ever have to go back into any of these types of things (continuous education from home) and even for them to continue to learn and have opportunities to have access to computers for homework or anything else, they’ll have that opportunity at home,” said Thompson.
Money for the purchase is coming from federal CARES Act funding, approved by Congress in response to the COVID pandemic.
While the devices will remain the property of USD 259, every middle and high school student in the district will be assigned a computer with internal internet access. They’ll work in a manner similar to a smartphone. Each device will be equipped with a device that will allow the district to turn on/off the computer's access to the internet. The chip will also allow the district to track the device in case it’s stolen, lost, or misplaced.
“We chose those devices only because it makes it easier to get access (to the internet) and to be able to have it turned on within a shorter period of time,” said Thompson
Elementary students will be assigned one of the district’s existing units. They do not have internet access built-in, so homes that don’t have access to the internet will have it provided by the district.
“We had already been talking about the digital divide even before COVID,” said Thompson, “but it just became very apparent and very critical for us to be able to just go ahead and move. But being able to receive the CARES dollars just helped us to be able to do that.”
Thompson says the computers have already been ordered and she anticipates having them in place in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year.