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PWCS Superintendent Announces Purchase of Student Laptops for At-Home Use

| April 2, 2020 | 0 Comments | Education

Forest Park High School senior Tim Reed spearheaded a project to refurbish 30 laptop computers that were donated to Northern Virginia Community College’s robotics camps.

At the Prince William County Emergency School Board meeting, Wednesday, Superintendent Steven Walts announced PWCS has purchased laptops for its high school students to use during the COVID-19 school closings.

Prince William County Schools aims to invest $11 million plus in laptop computers for at home use. They will facilitate distance learning for all students during school closures and into the regular school year since so much of education now relies upon online access. 

PWCS has already made a large bulk purchase of laptops for high school students at the cost of $6 million plus dollars. They hope to secure another $5 million from the board of county supervisors. 

“To this end, I am pleased to announce that using a combination of existing technology funding and flex funding – we have placed an order for more than 15,500 HP Touchscreen laptops for our students,” Walts said.

Prior to their emergency meeting, the board unanimous approved the purchase via a straw poll, and sent a letter out announcing it on Mar. 29. Walts said they needed to act fast as divisions around the country are making similar orders.

The priority is to get the computers in the hands of all high school students and then work backwards to the other grades, Walts explained to the board.

In the meantime, the school division is making use of its existing laptops and computers in their buildings, providing for all those in need, so they too can engage in distance learning.

“The I-T department is also working to make outdoor WiFi hotspots available at as many schools as possible, so students could login if needed. We also will promote low cost options for internet, and provide at home hotspots as we are able,” the superintendent said. 

PWCS is also providing tech for teachers who need it.

“Instructional technology staff are working with principals to ensure that every teacher has a computer with internet at home,” said Walts, “as we had hundreds who did not.”

In regards to the $5 million request for county funding, it remains to be seen. At the Mar. 31 meeting board meeting, Chair Ann Wheeler said she thought it is important to get computers in the hands of students, but asked that the school division provide more details, especially at a time of competing needs. Walts said that would be done promptly and he would answer all of her questions.

The board of supervisors is not scheduled to meet again until April 14.

School Board members wanted parents to know purchasing additional technology was not a “knee-jerk” reaction to the crisis. They had a plan to purchase at home devices for students already within their budget, it was just to be parsed out over five years. They explained it is something that will be used consistently during the regular school year.

However, it would become crucial in case the shutdown extends or interrupts next year, and distance learning must commence again. Chairman Babur Lateef said they were “caught with their pants down,” but that cannot happen again.

The “stay-at-home” order also demonstrated just how difficult it is for families to share devices as children need to do school work and parents may be working remotely. This could solve that problem.

Potomac representative Justin Wilk said he travels the country visiting various school divisions for his day job, and he has seen that PWCS is woefully behind in providing students with technology for at-home use.

Lateef said if there is a silver-lining to the crisis, it is that now they are being forced to transition to a 21st century mode of education rather than a mid-20th century, or even a 19th century one.

Student representative Ben Kim said students should look at distance learning as an opportunity to take some risks now that the reins have been loosened. He encourages them to come up with creative educational projects and seek guidance from their teachers.

Woodbridge representative Loree Williams said that some are asking about the e-back pack plans initiative from years ago.

“That is not the same thing that we are doing now,” she said, saying that was a state program and a, “completely separate venture.” 

© 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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