District seeking grant for middle school iPads

Shawn Hardy

Greencastle-Antrim High School students were able to resume their regular studies online after schools were closed due to COVID-19 thanks to the iPads they each received in January under the first part of the district's Equal Technology Opportunities initiative.

District officials are hoping a coronavirus-related grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will put the same technology in the hands of middle school students.

Members of the school board supported including iPads for middle-schoolers in the application for a PCCD School Health and Safety Grant at last week's meeting.

"Purchasing educational technology for distance learning to ensure the continuity of education" is one way the grant money can be spent, according to the PCCD website.

The federal CARES Act funding also covers expenses associated with cleaning, training, equipment and other health and safety needs related to COVID-19.

The district is applying for $236,000.

Caroline Royer, chief financial officer, said the district will need $55,000 to $56,000 for things like masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning. The remainder would be available for online learning.

A four-year lease program for middle school iPads would cost $178,000 in the first year and $57,462 in the each of the three remain years, Dwight Bard, director of technology, explained. If the grant it received, it will cover the first year. The district will be responsible for the ensuing three years.

No official vote was taken, but school board members supported including the middle school technology in the grant application, which had to be submitted by June 30.

The middle school iPad rollout was scheduled for this fall, but funding was not included in the 2020-21 budget.

Dr. Carter Davidson said the grant could "provide free money for something we can't afford."

Schools closed in March and on April 6, G-A High Schoolers resumed coursework in their regular classes online. Teachers were only able to provide guidance in several subject areas for younger students, who do not all have the same access to technology.

Davidson, who has five children, said, "It was a much bigger struggle for the younger kids than the older kids."

"It's not the device ... its the technology and actions that go with it," said Scott Hart, who has four children in the district. He added that if schools have to be closed again "this gives our kids a better shot."

Shannon Blanchard, with two children in the school system, said individual iPads provide consistent curriculum across grade levels.

"We don't know what the fall will look like," said Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent. "Will there be another round of COVID?"

"It's an absolute need," said board member Mark Chimel. "We're not going to be able to use paper forever."