Helping kids bridge the digital divide during COVID-19

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HOUSTON – As students prepare to head back to school, some families are concerned they will not have the technology needed to help their children succeed in virtual or distance learning. Specifically, in the African American community, many students have not engaged as much in the virtual learning landscape, as we have relied on brick-and-mortar institutions.

Will students have the proper resources?

A sweep of all the local school districts’ websites shows most have already started distributing equipment to students, with others announcing plans are underway.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said, based on surveys, the district has about 22,000 devices that it needs to deploy to students who do not have access to laptops or Chromebooks. HISD also has 16,000 hotspots to distribute to students by Sept. 8.

Fort Bend ISD noted that teachers are busy learning the various tools and systems that will be used to deliver a rigorous online learning experience, as well as the important health and safety protocols. They have begun scheduling times for students and parents to pick up equipment.

Earlier this month, Aldine ISD held the first round of device distribution targeting families that had chosen the learning-at-home option. To get technology in the hands of more students, the district hosted another device distribution event on August 14.

Check the website for your child’s school district to request equipment.

Charity organizations are helping as well.

Community Works CDC, the non-profit organization of Free Indeed Church International, has been helping the underserved community of northeast Houston for 15 years.

Volunteers held a Tech Drive to collect the necessary virtual education tools for students.

Another organization, Comp-U-Dopt, stepped in to provide devices to qualifying students. According to its website, Comp-U-Dopt has already distributed more than 20,000 devices.

To register for a computer in Houston, your child must attend a K-12 school in Harris County and not have access to a device at home. There is a limit of one device per household, and the students can keep the devices forever.

Contact www.compudopt.org/houston for more information.

It is understood that not all students have access to Wi-Fi/ internet at home, so some districts are also providing hot spots.

For those who may be able to afford discounted service, internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast have designed programs offering internet plans for as low as $10 a month to help families.

Check with your local cable and/or internet providers for deals.

So, once you have the devices, how do you get moving in the right direction?

Do you know the difference between synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning?

Virtual synchronous instruction requires students and teachers to interact in real-time through a computer or electronic device.

In virtual asynchronous instruction, students work independently, and teachers provide daily feedback.

Familiarize yourself with these two formats in order to best assist your child.

Also, make sure your child adopts a normal routine for learning at home, similar to what they practice at school. Wake up on time, brush your teeth and wash your face, comb your hair, eat a well-balanced breakfast and lunch, take a moment to stretch and wiggle for recess and – by all means – DRESS APPROPRIATELY!!!! No pajamas while logging on.

Overall, parents and caregivers just need to be ready, this could last a while. School districts are reporting virtual learning could range from three to six weeks, with some schools delaying the start of in-person learning until after Labor Day weekend, but the COVID-19 crisis has plans changing quickly — and often. Our advice? Be ready for the long haul. Be ready for ANYTHING!