Initiatives to equip students with devices have ramped up in both Idaho and Washington as districts work to finalize reopening plans that may include remote learning options this fall.

Grantham Elementary School in Clarkston recently received 50 Chromebooks from Sparklight, while Idaho Business for Education launched a new phase of its “Close the Divide” campaign, which asks people to donate spare devices.

Rob Hoffman, principal at Grantham, said the Chromebooks, valued at about $12,000, are a “blessing” for the school, which has a free and reduced lunch rate of about 85 percent. He estimated that at least 30 percent to 40 percent of families didn’t have devices for their kids this spring.

“A lot of our families don’t have the resources and some of them don’t even have the internet,” Hoffman said. “The district is purchasing more Chromebooks, but for Grantham, (this donation) will allow us to provide even more, especially if students in younger grades need one.”

When Clarkston schools closed down this spring to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Grantham struggled with a lack of attendance once schools switched to a remote delivery of education, Hoffman said.

“I’m assuming a lot of that is because of the lack of resources. Attendance on Zoom, Google classroom and email (dropped.) Those engagement opportunities saw a real lapse,” Hoffman said. “Distance learning is a challenge regardless, but the more technology tools we have at our disposal, it increases our chances at communicating with families.”

Sparklight has created an initiative to help put Chromebooks into the hands of students in Title I schools, like Grantham.

“While many school systems are taking big steps and working to give every student and every teacher access to the technology and tools they need to learn, not all schools have the funding to support this effort,” said Ken Johnson, the senior vice president of technology services at Sparklight, in a news release.

Meanwhile in the Gem State, Idaho Business for Education is once again asking businesses and community members to donate any spare computers they may have so they can be given to students in need.

A survey conducted by the Idaho State Board of Education showed nearly 200,000 students don’t have a computer at home and at least 30,000 do not have internet access.

“If we do not close the divide, these students who don’t have these learning tools will not have an equal opportunity to learn should the COVID-19 virus force students to learn part of the time or all of the time at home,” IBE President Rod Gramer said. “It is imperative that we get these resources to students for the 2020-21 school year.”

This week, Gov. Brad Little signed a proclamation declaring next Wednesday as “Close the Digital Divide Day” in Idaho. People are asked to donate used laptops or other electronic devices to help K-12 students access blended learning opportunities.

“My priority is for all students to learn in the new school year, and connectivity and access to devices is an important part of providing learning to all students,” Little said in a news release.

Lori McCann, chairwoman of the north central Idaho team, said about 50 computers have been collected in the region so far. The goal is to collect 3,000 computers statewide and raise $200,000.

Idaho Business for Education will have drop-off sites set up across the state to collect devices from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday. Sites in north central Idaho include:

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Lewis-Clark Valley, 1021 Burrel Ave., Lewiston.

McCann Law Office/McCann Ranch and Livestock Co., 1027 Bryden Ave., Lewiston.

Jenifer Middle School, 1213 16th St., Lewiston.

The support services building of the Moscow School District, 2245 White Ave., Moscow.

The Soltman Center, 600 W. Main St., Grangeville.

For more information, people can contact McCann by email at lmccann@wvmccann.com or go online to www.idahobe.org/close.

People can also go to the Idaho Community Foundation website at www.idahocf.org/funds/internet to donate to the Internet for Students Emergency Fund.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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