By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

MSD: most students will use internet, computers

Before Oregon schools begin formalized “distance learning” later this month, educators say all students must have access to the tools they need to learn during the coronavirus-induced closure.

Typically, that means a computer with an internet connection for each child. Many families in McMinnville and Yamhill County have these, but not all. For others, access may include a phone connection to a teacher or paper copies of lessons.

District actions

McMinnville School District is taking steps to ensure every student has access to learning during the school closure. Steps include:

* Distributing Chromebooks, like those students use in classrooms, to families that need computers or need more so every child has access.

* Checking out “WiFi Hotspot” devices to those who need connections. A limited number are available, so high school seniors have first priority.

* Working with internet providers to help families connect at low- or no-cost.

* Making Wi-Fi connections in school buildings available to students 24/7. They connect using student ID numbers. The service is not available to the general public.

* Providing assignments and materials on paper if no computer connection is available or if a student needs them to learn more effectively.

For more information, call your neighborhood school or the district office at 503-565-4000.

“Access is the great equalizer,” said Hilary Brittan Lack, principal of Duniway Middle School.

At McMinnville High School, most students say they have computer access, Principal Amy Fast said.

“But we want to make sure all do. It’s about equity,” she said.

A cellphone isn’t sufficient, she said. For real learning, students need a device with a larger screen.

The district conducted a survey about internet access and computer availability before schools closed March 13 for an early spring break to slow the spread of COVID-19.

About 93 percent of respondents reported they had access. In a school district with 6,700 students, that would leave 469 without internet access.

But the number is actually lower for technology powerful enough to support learning, Superintendent Maryalice Russell said.

To ensure all students have the technology they need, the district has distributed more than 2,000 Chromebooks to students. An additional distribution is planned this week. Distance learning is to begin a week from now, on Monday, April 13.

Chromebooks must be connected to the internet for communication and conferencing. The district also has been checking out WiFi Hotspot devices, providing priority to seniors since there are not enough for everyone. It also has helped arrange free or discounted internet service for some families.

If a family cannot connect to the internet, or if it prefers, the district will provide written materials and assignments that can be completed on paper.

Paper packets with information about learning tools and other support also will be available to families by mail, at schools and at bus stops where free meals are distributed.

Whatever accommodation has to be made, educators cannot let lack of computer access be a barrier, Russell said.

 

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