Partnership with Library Bridges Digital Divide of Buffalo Students

Thanks to a new partnership between the district and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, all students will now be able to gain access to the same online resources they have at school at any county library.

by Sandra Tan, The Buffalo News / December 9, 2014

(TNS) -- The digital divide between the haves and have-nots among Buffalo Public Schools students is stark at homework time. The district estimates that 25 percent to 40 percent of students have no home access to Internet service.

That makes it difficult for teachers to offer supplemental online resources to children, or offer Web-based assignments, even though the district spends money every year subscribing to Web-based programs and software applications specifically for student use.

Even though every student in the district is assigned an online account that gives them access to these programs, many parents aren’t aware of them, and many parents who are aware of them have had no way to access them outside of school.

Until now.

Thanks to a new partnership between the district and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, all students will now be able to gain access to the exact same online resources they have at school at any county library. Students would also have the same access to that information at home through their computer, tablet or phone, if they have Internet service.

Students will now have out-of-school access through BPS Desktop to Web-based programs that can connect them with digital versions of their textbooks, age-appropriate Internet search engines, exam prep programs and Common Core lessons.

Moreover, all students will have free access to software-based programs that would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars to buy off the shelf. That includes the 2013 version of Microsoft Office and Adobe software like Photoshop and Dreamweaver, a website creator program.

Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie called the program launch a “great day” for the district at a news conference Monday in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue. “Phones are ubiquitous,” he said, “but it’s the online connection that really delivers the goods.”

Based on surveys of 2,000 fifth- and sixth-graders across the district, at least one out of every four students does not have home Internet service, said Sarah Edwards, the district’s supervisor for instructional technology.

Chief Technology Officer Sanjay Gilani added that among students who claim to have Internet connectivity at home, spot data from Internet providers strongly suggests that students may have limited Internet access through their mobile phones but no dedicated Internet connection from a home computer. BPS Desktop is available on mobile devices but is optimally meant for computers.

Regardless of whether a student accesses the BPS Desktop from the library or home, students simply need to log-in information for their student accounts. Every city student has such an account, said Edwards.

Students who access BPS Desktop from the library would also need to apply for a free library card, if they don’t have one already. All librarians should also receive information to help students log on to library computers and help them access the information they need, said district and library administrators.

“We are now their school when their school is closed,” said Mary Jean Jakubowski, director of the Erie County library system.

Library computers are available to students regardless of whether they have fines on their library account, she added.

District and library officials began discussing a partnership to give students access to their online school accounts back in the spring, Edwards said. In October, they launched a pilot program to make BPS Desktop available at Merriweather Library. Now, it will be available in all libraries throughout Erie County.

All students should be taking home information by the end of this week detailing how to remotely access BPS Desktop. Included in the information is a library card application for students who don’t yet have a card. The district also offers several YouTube how-to videos.

Karl English, a sophomore at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, demonstrated the desktop program Monday and said he’s been regularly using BPS Desktop for a couple of months.

“I use it a lot when I’m working on projects,” he said.

He called up an attractive – and expensive – French restaurant menu he created as a project for his media communications class. He started the design work for the menu at school but continued to work on it at home by accessing his personal folders on his BPS Desktop account.

He’ll be training teachers at his school on how to use BPS Desktop in January.

©2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)