School districts offer technology support as students go back for first day of class

School is back in session but for many students that doesn’t mean back to the classroom. Minneapolis and St. Paul are just two districts in Minnesota starting the year completely remote.

Online learning brings its own challenges, especially when it comes to technology.

Each of the more than 36,000 students in St. Paul Public Schools has been assigned an iPad for distance learning, from pre-K through 12th grade.

“We have 95 percent of students have the iPad in hand and are ready to learn,” said Chief Operations Officer Jackie Turner.

She said they ordered thousands of iPads in the early summer to prepare for a possible distance learning plan.

“We ordered enough, we believe, to last us the whole entire school year,” said Turner, pointing to a stack of boxes. “These are brand new iPads that have just come in and they have been categorized and ready to go out.”

Families can pick up an iPad at the Operations Center on Como Ave., which also serves as a repair shop.

“Families are actually coming right now to be able to receive support if their iPad is not working, they don’t understand how to log on, or something has happened with their connectivity,” said Turner. “On Friday we had approximately […] 50 cars with families waiting in line to have their iPad serviced.”

When an iPad gets broken, a student can make an appointment to drive up and get an assessment.

“Oftentimes it’s just a short question or a short fix, and we can bring it in make the repair and get it right out to them,” said Turner.

If the fix is going to take longer, the iPad is left at the Center. Staff then provide the student with a different iPad to take home so their learning is not interrupted.

The district also purchased about 3,600 hot spots to ensure that students are able to connect.

“We have a ready supply when families need a hotspot so they can just call and we can get a hotspot delivered to them,” she said.

According to Turner, they also have a mobile team that’s able to provide service to families who are unable to travel to the Operations Center. The district is working to decentralize the process as well.

“There will be five different spaces throughout the city, primarily at our high schools, where families will be able to come for support- tech support, academic support and social-emotional support,” said Turner.

The district has set up a help-line to assist families with technology issues.

SPPS is also providing technology classes for parents and guardians through their student’s school. The district plans to run its own learning opportunities for caregivers in October as well.

Some Minnesota students kick off school year with distance learning

“2020 is like no other year we’ve had in education,” said Steve Buettner, the Director of Media and Technology for Edina Public Schools.

The Edina district is hosting parent and guardian classes this week, which are focused on technology.

“This year more than ever it’s important that we offer those,” said Buettner. “Parents can log on and get an understanding of the digital tools that we use, how they’ll be used in instruction by our teachers and how those students, their children, will participate in it.”

He said they will also talk about communication, expectations and schedules. Plus, there will be an opportunity to ask questions.

“Giving our parents a window into how those tools are used in an instructional setting and also how they can assist their students, I think is incredibly important in this year of hybrid learning and distance learning,” said Buettner.

There are eight classes in the first week, with more than 400 families already enrolled. Buettner expects that number will grow.

There will also be a Q and A session with the superintendent this week.

“This is unprecedented this is new for our students, our staff and our families and so we all need to understand learn and support each other,” he said.

Edina students started orientation on Tuesday. The district is using a hybrid model for students this fall.

With concerns about COVID as some students returned to school, the Minnesota Department of Health said during its Tuesday briefing that the recommendations and re-opening plans were designed so that a single case will not force a district to change its entire learning plan.

"What we have encouraged in our school reopening plan is that we look at a school by school basis," said Susan Klammer, an MDH senior epidemiologist. "It’s highly possible there could be a school you know within the same district, that’s a couple miles away from another school, that may have cases that needs to shift their learning model and other schools nearby would not be impacted directly."