Grand Island Public Schools addresses equity and access during pandemic by providing internet connection to families

GRAND ISLAND – Grand Island Public Schools will provide 125 Verizon Jetpacks to identified families in an effort to ensure equity and access to all students for eLearning.

GIPS identified four priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic: eLearning, food distribution, social emotional and mental health supports, and equity and access. The district worked to address the digital divide and close the connectivity gap so all students could participate in eLearning.

“Internet connectivity for our students is crucial to us at this time,” Superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover said. “We knew it was up to us to make the necessary decision to provide these resources so our students can stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected.”

Internet connectivity should no longer be a barrier to learning. Dr. Grover said the district is counting on students to learn the contents and continue to thrive.

“While we aren’t counting grades in the gradebooks,” Grover said, “we are counting on students learning the content we are teaching and being ready to move forward when we start school in the fall.”

Principals identified students who didn’t have internet access at home. The principals will contact the families and arrange a time to pick up the Jetpack at their school, with no face-to-face contact. Families who still may be in need of the internet for their student may contact their principal, social worker or counselor.

Cory Gearhart, Executive Director of Information Technology, said providing Jetpacks is one thing that can help remove a barrier for students.

“Teachers are having to use many different resources online so students can continue learning. The lack of internet at home for some families is a barrier to their child’s ability to maintain and grow in their learning,” Gearhart said.

Dr. Jonathan Doll, Chief Data Analyst and Organizational Strategist, said internet access has never been a problem when students were in the school building, so the district doesn’t want it to be a problem in the eLearning environment.

Dr. Toni Palmer, Chief of Leadership and Learning, said providing Jetpacks to students opens the door for new types of learning for all students.

“The classroom has transformed from brick and mortar to the virtual environment,” Palmer said. “Although teachers are still focusing on essential standards, they have to plan activities and engagement in creative and innovative ways through online tools and resources.”

“It’s important for our students to stay connected to their teachers and peers during this time,” Palmer said. “Not only for continued learning, but to maintain connections and support.”

Dr. Grover said students and families should know that they can count on GIPS for access and the opportunity to continue learning.

“During the year, students could come up to the campus and take advantage of wifi. This is simply not a solution during this time,” Grover said. “We want to protect students and honor social distancing. These Jetpacks extend our reach and keep kids safe.”

It’s an issue bigger than eLearning, she said.

“Internet connectivity is so crucial because even though our daily face-to-face opportunities are not possible at this time, when a student is able to see their friends, classmates, teachers – even if it is over the screen – it brings them joy and helps them overcome social isolation,” Dr. Grover said. “We want to bring them hope and possibly the strength they need to thrive and survive this pandemic.”

“While our methods may have changed, our mission remains constant to every student, every day a  success.”

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