What's the Plus?
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What's the Plus?

Our Students Need Access to Technology

By Rikii Gipson

I often think of my mother’s priorities as she raised four kids as a single parent. She focused on providing shelter and food. We are told that education is the key to overcoming economical disadvantages, but it is the last thing on the minds of families faced with hardships during the pandemic.

Accessing education through technology was always important to my students. They would handle every iPad and Chromebook carefully as they placed them in the cart to recharge and they were always excited to have their chance to use the equipment during rotations or before class. Over the past few months, we have scrambled to continue the education of our students entirely through technology. It is easy to ask parents to make sure their students log on and complete assignments, but when they are left to feed their families with limited resources, education is not a focus. And just like in the case of my mom, it is not a priority.

Some of my students’ parents are not able to use the free services offered because they cannot pay their internet or phone bill. Parents are also balancing reduced work hours, childcare, and uncertainty all while trying to adapt to a new digital way of educating their children. Many parents will fall deeper and deeper into poverty as a result of COVID-19. While it is commendable that companies are not disconnecting essential services and the government is offering stimulus checks, it only puts a band-aid on the wound. The services may not be disconnected, but families of my students will still have to pay double or even triple the amount of the bill after life returns to normal. What will happen in the long run as the economy gets back on track?

Based on the Texas Education Agency 2018–2019 School Report Card, San Antonio ISD has an economically disadvantaged rate of 90.4%, with Pershing Elementary, where I teach, at 98.2%. Pershing Elementary has a mobility rate of 31.1%, more than 6% above the district average, and double the percentage of the state’s 60.6%. Our students are coping with uncertainty on top of living in a high-poverty area.

Many of our students lack Internet access. To aid our families, San Antonio Independent School District purchased 30,000 new Chromebooks to distribute to students and Hotspots for those in need. Also, the school district has provided meals for students with delivery service available. These are all worthy initiatives, but our families need more.

As my colleagues and I reached out to parents and students to provide emotional support and determine their needs, we’ve gained more and more understanding of these needs. A new Chromebook without internet access means very little. The first step is to ensure that families have internet service and to provide low income families with free internet access, even if they have an outstanding bill. We also must make sure parents understand how to log into the Chromebook and access Google Classroom, by using Jumpstart cards to provide step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting, and district technology support numbers. We must keep an open line of communication for parents and students so that teachers can call them and walk them through each step. This means the world to our families. During this time, human connections are more important than ever.

I think of my own life and lack of technology growing up. I still struggle with some components and I wonder if I had adequate access to technology as a child, would I have these deficiencies? Before the next crisis, it is important for every one of our students to have access to technology inside and outside of the classroom. Families can check out technology to complete assignments at home and attend sessions that will give them basic computer skills. We should address the need for all students to have an even playing field when it comes to technology and education as a whole.

Rikii Gipson is a 4th grade ELAR master teacher at Pershing Elementary School in the San Antonio ISD. She is a Teach Plus Texas Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.

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