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St. Louis Schools Afford VR Headsets With Federal Grants

The district used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) COVID-19 relief funds to buy Avantis Education ClassVR tools for 17 schools. The technology will be available to students this academic year.

Two boys wearing virtual-reality headsets holding controllers
Two students participate in a virtual-reality program using ClassVR headsets and hand controllers.
Courtesy: Avantis Education
Add Saint Louis Public Schools to the list of K-12 districts spending federal grant money on virtual-reality headsets.

According to a news release yesterday, the district purchased ClassVR headsets from Avantis Education for 17 schools with the help of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. The technology will be available in St. Louis classrooms during this 2023-2024 academic year.

The district did not disclose the total expenditure or number of headsets, but Chris Klein, head of U.S. education for Avantis Education, said in an email that the cost for eight headsets, annual licenses and access to content starts at about $5,000.

In a public statement, Douglas Combs of Haddock Education Technologies, a Missouri-based consultant that contracts with the district, said St. Louis school leaders “were seeking something cool and exciting to engage students in the content they were learning in class,” and VR headsets seemed like an exact fit.

Virtual-reality headsets provide 360-degree digital environments where users are able to interact with the images they see. ClassVR is designed for use in K-12, and Avantis Education counts more than 1 million student users in 90 countries and about 100,000 classrooms, according to the news release. In education procurements, the headsets include software, training, support, and access to a content library with thousands of images, videos and interactive scenes.

For the 2023-2024 academic year, Avantis says more than 400 lessons from its content library meet state education standards throughout the country in English language arts, social studies and science, according to the news release.

ESSER comes from a federal effort to help K-12 schools recover from the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic and cover the purchase of ed-tech tools, particularly for classrooms with low-income students and students with disabilities. According to the St. Louis Public Schools website, about 3,600 of the district's 19,600 students qualify as homeless, 2,596 receive special education instruction and 2,160 are still learning English. Twenty-eight percent of the district’s annual budget is funded by federal aid.

“School and district leaders are increasingly looking to new and emerging technologies to help them support student learning and AR/VR is a big part of these conversations,” Avantis Education CEO Huw Williams said in a public statement. “ESSER funding is making these technologies even more accessible for schools, and we are looking forward to being able to bring the power of virtual reality into even more classrooms, both in St. Louis and across the country.”

Earlier this month, Avantis announced that 13 low-income school districts in south Texas will use federal GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grants to buy ClassVR headsets.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.