In 2015, the admin team at Wellton Elementary School (WES), in rural southwestern Arizona, had prioritized increasing the use of technology in the classroom.
Five years ago, our goal was to become a one-to-one school; a school where each student had access to a computer in all classes. We wanted students to leave WES with the ability to utilize technology in order to have more opportunities for success as they enter high school. With desktops and Chromebooks, we achieved our goal several years ago in that all students had access to a device.
In March 2020, when all schools shut down, we knew we had to be able to offer Chromebooks for student use at home if we wanted virtual instruction to work. We continued to prioritize funding for technology, sometimes postponing other initiatives or projects.
We are proud to say that we have been able to allow every student to check out a Chromebook in order to participate in virtual learning. Our teachers have been fantastic in effectively integrating technology into all areas of the curriculum, but there have been stumbling blocks.
Living in a rural area, it has been very challenging to make sure that 180 students have access to internet service. As a district, we tried leasing hotspots, but they didn’t always work because of the location of the student’s home.
Another issue was the amount of bandwidth required to participate in Zoom meetings. Hotspots quickly became too expensive for our small district. We turned to our local internet provider who worked with the district to provide services at a discounted rate to students. Using grant funds, the district is able to pay for the internet services for students.
It has been amazing to watch our kindergarten students use Flipgrid to post video responses and to see the presentations made by older students. It hasn’t always been easy, but parents and students have been very patient during the shutdown and as we provided all instruction virtually.
To change from classroom instruction to 100% virtual instruction has been an enormous undertaking for everyone involved. This pandemic has changed life for all of us. It has changed education as we know it but, at WES we are determined to work with our students in order to ensure their academic success.
Lisa Jameson is the Superintendent of the Wellton Elementary School District.