Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent. Joy Hoffmeister awarded $16 million to Oklahoma school districts impacted by COVID-19.
Justus-Tiawah Public Schools was one of the 150 districts selected, and the only district in Rogers County to receive the state and federal assistance.
Justus-Tiawah was awarded $100,000, which Superintendent Ed Crum said will be used for purchasing electronic devices for the students.
“Prior to all of this happening, we were very technology poor,” Crum said.
Crum’s plan is to give each student in sixth through eighth grade a personal laptop on which to do class assignments, and lower grade levels will each have a classroom set.
The district will be purchasing hot spots for families who don’t have internet connectivity, a content management service that hosts communication between teachers and students, and software that monitors the childrens’ personal laptops to ensure they are being used safely and responsibly.
“We want to get devices to our students to help them be successful with any distance learning that may be coming our way,” Crum said. “It will help us do a little bit better job this time around.”
In the last months of the spring semester, Crum said, the district was focused on meeting the physical, social and emotional needs of their students and families during a period of uncertainty.
“The majority participated at some point or another, but keeping families engaged in what we were trying to do was pretty difficult,” Crum said. “We were all going through this for the first time, so we’re trying to beef up our knowledge base as well.”
“The end of last year, we were mostly just making sure everyone was doing alright and maintaining the relationship side of it,” Crum said. “As we move forward, the academic side of it needs to be stressed as well.”
The goal of the grant is to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on student learning, and ensure students are able to access learning opportunities in the new school year.
The $16 million came from the state funds that were components of the federal CARES Act.
Districts are required to spend the funds in five priority area: connectivity for students, content and learning management systems, mental health support for students, compensatory services for at-risk students, and training in the science of reading for pre-K through fifth grade teachers.
“Our districts indicated an urgent need for funds dedicated to connectivity and digital learning materials, and for good reason,” said Hofmeister. “The pandemic has created a clarion call throughout the state and nation to bridge the digital divide. It is imperative that districts be equipped to take swift and decisive action to ensure all kids are learning amid a global pandemic, including in virtual or blended environments that best meet local context and the needs of families.”
Stitt said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of digital transformation and the need for our students to have access to quality technology in order to enhance learning opportunities. I appreciate the commitment of Supt. Hofmeister, OSDE and our local school districts as we continue to ensure these dollars are maximized to the benefit of our students and educators across the state.”
The Justus-Tiawah School District is also spending non-grant funds to purchase additional cleaning supplies and equipment so that when children, ideally, go back to school in August, they will have an even cleaner learning environment than in years past.
“My hope and plan is to come back to school in August with everybody,” Crum said. He added that it may include some precautions like masks and mandatory temperature checks.
“It’ll probably never be as normal as it used to be,” Crum said.
Over 340 schools applied for the grant, and 150 grants were awarded
“I appreciate the state coming through with it,” Crum said. “We were going to have to update our technology one way or another, and this helps to soften that blow.”