CARES Act grant will provide iPads for younger G-A students

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Lura Hanks believes it is important for kids to play outside, get dirty and figure things out for themselves.

The Greencastle-Antrim School superintendent is thrilled that when they need it, the district's younger students will soon all be equal about figuring things out when it comes to technology.

The school board approved an agreement Thursday for more than $800,000 in federal CARES (coronavirus aid, relief, and economic security) Act broadband grant funding. Awarded to the district by the Franklin County commissioners, it will be used, in part, to provide 1,300 iPads for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The iPads come with three free months of internet services and, like cell phones, can serve as hot spots for other devices in a home.

The funds also will provide additional hot spots and pay off the second two years of a four-year lease on iPads for middle-schoolers. All middle school students received iPads in October through earlier CARES funding. Pre-COVID-19, high school students were all given iPads in January 2020 as the first part of the school district's Equal Technology Opportunity initiative.

Students used both books and iPads in an English class shortly after each student at Greencastle-Antrim High School received an iPad in January 2020. CARES Act funding allowed the district to provide iPads to middle school students in October 2020 and now elementary and primary school students are in line to receive them, too.

Individual iPads for K-5 students was not part of the ETO rollout plan. The district wanted to take its time and research the appropriate use of technology for children in lower grades, according to Dwight Bard, director of technology.

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However, with the closing of schools last spring and continuing instructional changes due to the COVID pandemic, it became apparent that families did not have access to equal technology, he said.

Hanks noted the district has received more than 500 requests for devices from families. There is a waiting list for hotspots, and children in K-5 are using a variety of devices.

With children at home herself, she has experienced what happens when everyone is online at the same time, and the message "unstable internet" pops up during a meeting.

Very few devices remain in buildings since most have been loaned to students, and teachers are also struggling to help students who are using varied technologies.

"This is a huge opportunity for our students and families who truly need it," Bard said.

"We'll be able to say that there is not a child in Greencastle that will not be able to access their learning, regardless of the environment we're confronted with," Hanks said.

A team will start next week to work on the details of the rollout.

"While we continue to refine our efforts in this new virtual world, we know that this award takes us a few steps in the right direction," Hanks wrote in a letter to families on Monday. "With that, I want to share a caution to our primary and elementary families. We are not encouraging extended screen time or the use of these devices as alternatives to the very important work of playing outside, getting dirty and finding creative ways to express themselves! These devices are tools to support personalized learning, creativity, and communication. They will provide equitable access to all our students to the services and materials essential for learning."

A team of county and legal representatives reviewed the COVID-19 relief grant applications for broadband internet access and the $1.38 million approved by commissioners included:

  • Chambersburg Area School District – $251,532.14
  • Greencastle-Antrim School District – $833,165.53
  • Tuscarora School District – $156,929.20
  • Waynesboro Area School District – $138,404.20

G-A ETO

The school district's ETO mission statement is: “To foster a culture of growth and engagement, G-ASD will empower student success through effective communication, ongoing learning, and professional development.”

ETO strives to enhance the teaching and learning environment by:

  • Equalizing learning opportunities for all.
  • Providing immediate access to information and digital resources.
  • Allowing for innovative instructional strategies that provide an environment for creativity and engagement.
  • Increasing student engagement through individualization.
  • Providing ongoing professional development opportunities.