Lubbock school district gets creative to provide access for students
Apr 23, 2020

Lubbock school district gets creative to provide access for students

Reporting Texas

Lubbock Independent School District provides WIFI hotspots at all of their high schools called Park and Learns. Here, students can connect to the schools WIFI and complete their work.

Lubbock-The hallways of Overton Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, have been empty for over a month. Schools across the country let out for spring break, but because of the Coronavirus, the students never came back.

Governor Greg Abbott announced Friday that all Texas schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year. Overton Principal Ann Archer looked out to an empty cafeteria, one usually filled with the chatter of students.

“I know it’s necessary, and I’m thankful that those making the decision have everyone’s health in mind first and foremost, but it’s sad,” Archer said. “It should be full of children laughing and visiting, and just the hustle and bustle of school.”

Students at Overton are now doing online learning where they attend class and do work through programs like Google Classroom and Zoom. One major roadblock for students across the country has been lack of resources and internet connection.

According to Texas Public Radio, the San Antonio Independent School District has lost contact with 25% of their elementary students, and over 9,300 students district wide. The school district started handing out Chromebooks last week to help their students stay connected. 

A Common Sense Media survey showed that over 40% of teenagers nationwide haven’t attended any online classes since the switch. 

Resource gaps could also be to blame. About 12 million students did not have broadband access at home before the pandemic according to the survey.

“If we were to grade students right now, we would be grading them based on privilege,” parent and Overton assistant principal Cayce Noble said. 

“So those who have the availability and the supportive parents at home, they have the technology, they have the WIFI, they are the ones who can be successful. The ones who don’t have those things are automatically starting miles behind.”

Before students left for spring break, Lubbock Independent School District gave Chromebooks to all second through twelfth graders according to Misty Rieber, LISD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. 

This week they gave computers to all of their first graders as well. Kindergarten students were already working off of iPads.

“We did it before we really knew what was coming,” Rieber said. “We just knew that in order to be prepared for something…we at least had some hope, so that we could do something with it.”

The Lubbock school district has contacted over 99% of their students since the break. Rieber said the Chromebooks have been great for students, but the number one thing is equality and access.

LISD provides “Park and Learns” for their students, a WIFI hotspots in the parking lots of all of their high schools and some middle schools. Students can connect to the school’s WIFI and complete their work from the parking lot or grass around the school.

“We are a district where over half of our students live in poverty,” Rieber said. “As the economy shifts, as people are losing jobs, that is something we think we’ll see more of. That people will lose their internet access because that’s something you can let go of in the home. So, as that happens, we want to make sure that we’re providing enough support.”

LISD also gives a lot of credit to teachers. Its district policy for teachers is to reach out to their students at least once a week. Noble has a 5th and 12th grade student at home, and she said she has been extremely impressed by the work her children’s teachers have done to stay in touch. 

“They have absolutely knocked my socks off with their efforts to connect with kids, to check on kids, to push kids and to continue to challenge them while also realizing that we’re living in a different world and making sure that they’re not setting kids of privilege above other,” Noble said.

The district is also providing WIFI hotspots for students to put in their homes, and they are in the process of ordering WIFI jetpacks that will provide internet access to multiple houses. Families can apply for hot spots and jet packs on LISD’s website.

Archer said one of her favorite parts of the day was standing at the front door in the mornings and welcoming students as they came into school. She is missing that greatly right now, but she wants her students to know they are all in this together.

“We love you and we miss you and we are going to all be together again very very soon, but in the meantime, we are going to make the best of it.”