But Where are the Laptops?

Technology, equity, and how we kept all kids learning in Seattle.

GUEST COLUMN | by Craig Seasholes

As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) looked across the long-noted “digital divide” and quickly realized there was a big job ahead. In order for every student at SPS to have an equal opportunity to learn during this challenging time, we needed to evaluate that digital divide, identify students who needed devices and/or access to the Internet, obtain the missing pieces, distribute expensive equipment, and make sure we were using our budget dollars wisely.

Would we be able to find and retrieve laptops once home learning restrictions eased? From budget and timing to logistics, the questions and challenges to be surmounted were understandably endless.

‘Our district knows where its expensive resources are and how to get devices into the hands of students who need them.’

As an elementary teacher-librarian in Seattle, I see both the challenges and opportunities of the pandemic. A decade ago, the Washington Library Association’s School Library and Information Technology program framework outlined that in addition to Reading Advocacy, teacher-librarians are charged with providing vital information surrounding technology instruction and resource management services in every school in the district.

Three Essential Roles

This pandemic has emphatically underscored two of the three essential and sometimes overlooked roles we serve as outlined in that framework—our students and teachers needed technology instruction, and the district needed accurate, reliable resource management.

THUMBS UP. Volunteers such as Brandon Hersey, school board member, helps deploy the laptops to an appreciative line of students and families who lack home devices, while librarian Sara Moges enters students’ names and device ID #s into Follett’s Destiny Resource Manager program to ensure accountability and tracking of the computers.

When the virus swept our state before all others in the country, distance learning became an instant reality, and that meant the district needed us to illustrate those skills we possess as librarians. We kicked into action and did what we do best: problem solve. We performed the research to determine what we needed to do, identified shortages and ways to get the equipment our students would need, donned masks and gloves to barcode every item that might leave our physical premises, and fired up our Destiny Resource Management System by Follett, which would help us know exactly where every piece of hardware was at any given time.

Committed to Serving

In a district committed to serving those “furthest from educational justice,” our highest-priority purchase of 500 wireless hotspots went out to homes with no Wi-Fi. But Internet service without a device is useless, and we needed more than 8,000 laptops for kids learning at home. A generous grant allowed the district to have 8,200 Chromebooks shipped directly to elementary students previously lacking home access.

Once staff was confident with the equipment we had, where it needed to go, and which students would receive the new Chromebooks, we worked to quickly assign laptops to students who waited outdoors at drive-through and walk-up distribution points in schools throughout the city.

“We reconfigured every laptop for off-campus student log in,” said Angie DeBoo, Network Analyst – Lead/Supervisor for Information Security at SPS. “In the last 20 days, librarians have checked out thousands of laptops to our students most in need.

Our Destiny Library Resource Management system allows us to keep track of which students have received laptops and provide needed data to our executive team. Librarians have been on the front lines of support ensuring that kids get the tools they need to learn from home. Equitable access is what librarians and libraries are about each and every day.”

For Our Community

These are strong numbers for a two-week “pivot” to online learning from Washington State’s largest school district committed to ensuring equitable access and closing the opportunity gaps. Our district knows where its expensive resources are and how to get devices into the hands of students who need them.

With that handled, we can manage every aspect of the online learning due to the expertise of our librarians and a powerful system that tracks our resources.

With librarians trained and ready to serve, I’m pleased to have played a role in this time of great need for our community.

Craig Seasholes is an elementary Teacher Librarian in Seattle Public Schools. His views here are based on first-hand engagement in the effort and tempered with more than 30 years of teaching and service as president of the Washington Library Association. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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