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Buffalo, N.Y., Reaches Goal of Device for Every Student

Remote learning will quietly hit an important milestone in the Buffalo Public Schools this week after the school district reaches its goal of distributing a laptop or tablet to every student.

(TNS) — Remote learning will quietly hit an important milestone in the Buffalo, N.Y., Public Schools this week when the district reaches its goal of distributing a laptop or tablet to every student.

The school district issued devices to more than two-thirds of its students in the spring, but was still waiting for nearly 10,000 iPads to arrive for those in pre-k, kindergarten and first grade. The first batch arrived mid-October and the final allotment is expected early this week.

"With this shipment, we now have a device for every student in the district," said Sarah Edwards, the district's director of instructional technology. "We'll be over 30,000 when we get all of these through."

It is still unclear when the district will return to some form of in-person learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic, so putting devices into the hands of students is one of the critical first steps to ensuring no one gets left behind during this period of remote instruction.

Students in grades three through 12 already were equipped with school-issued devices when the shutdown happened in March. The district had enough left over to distribute to second graders over the summer.

The school system ordered roughly 9,800 iPads for its youngest learners at the end of July, after the state awarded the district $9 million for technology improvements. But like many, Buffalo faced delays in acquiring the iPads because devices are in such high demand from districts across the nation — the world, even — as schools shifted to remote learning amid the pandemic.

That left Buffalo's youngest learners to rely on worksheets and packets, unless families had a device of their own — which isn't always the case in a largely poor urban district such as Buffalo.

"The digital divide is real," said Rachel Fix Dominguez, who co-chairs the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization, "and it is critical that all BPS students have free access to devices and internet connectivity."

Parents of young children who have received tablets over the past several days are relieved, Dominguez said.

"Many of the students have been connecting with their teachers in some form, but this is going to make it possible for them all to connect," Edwards said.

"It doesn't mean they are working exclusively on the iPad, but it does facilitate that one-to-one communication with their classroom and their teachers," she said. "They'll have the ability to interact with their peers, and for the little guys, that's a big deal. They need to have that interaction."

The new iPads have been arriving in the district in batches of roughly 3,000 at a time, the first bundle coming in mid-October, Edwards said.

Parents of pre-k, kindergarten and first grade students were notified when to pick them up at the former School 28 at 1515 South Park Ave., which now serves as the district's Center for Innovation, Technology and Training.

Distribution began Oct. 15.

"We have a company that we work with that is actually getting them set up, making sure their operating system is updated, putting them in cases — that happens off site," Edwards explained. "So, when they come to us, they're ready to go out the door. All we have to do is scan them into inventory and then we're ready to turn around and hand them out."

The second shipment arrived last Wednesday, while the third and final allotment is due early this week, Edwards said.

Distribution will continue through Friday, with about 450 families a day scheduled to pick up their devices from the building on South Park.

"They're probably spending on average of about a half hour here total," Edwards said. "They're going through the check-in, they get their device signed out, they're working with someone to get signed onto the device and let those apps load. And then, we're making sure they're getting a little orientation."

A small portion of the new iPads will go to the pre-k, kindergarten and first grade teachers.

"What they did prior to this was they managed a set of, on average, six devices in the classroom to set up learning centers. The teachers didn't need to have one," Edwards said. "Now, they're doing things remotely. They have to have one so that they're showing the students the exact same interface."

Dominguez, of the parent group, said now that the district has issued devices to all of its students it can move on to the next challenge: providing high-speed broadband to kids who are without it.

(c)2020 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.