How 2 districts got the devices students needed

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD distributed refurbished laptops to students, among other efforts
By: | October 16, 2020
Educators at Orange County Public Schools in Florida prepared laptops to distribute to students for online learning.Educators at Orange County Public Schools in Florida prepared laptops to distribute to students for online learning.

Surging global demand for low-cost laptops has forced school district leaders to find other online learning solutions while they wait for device orders to be fulfilled.

Since the spring, administrators at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in Texas have taken several different actions to supply devices to the 14,000 students who have requested them, Superintendent Jorge L. Arredondo tells District Administration. 

“In the spring, we placed orders to get the best devices for all our students at affordable prices,” Arredondo says. “A  lot of districts were thinking the same thing, so the demand was very high. We’ve moved our category of pricing up a bit to be able to purchase those items.”

Along with its willingness to spend a little more to get its laptops on time, the district’s IT team scoured computer labs, libraries and classrooms to find desktop computers that could be refurbished for remote instruction.

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The district distributed about 1,000 of those desktops to families to use for online learning.

The district also bought new laptops for its teachers so all educators had devices with the latest technology for online learning, says Lauro Davalos, the assistant superintendent for technology.

Some of the teachers’ older laptops were then redistributed to students.

Most of the district’s 31,000 students remain remote this school year, other than a few hundred in-person students who are unable to access remote instruction. The district expects to receive almost all of its laptops in the next few weeks.

“A year ago, getting every student in our district a device would’ve been a hard thing to sell,” Arredondo says. “But under this pandemic, everyone’s very understanding of how critical a device is for every student and now, they’re no longer a part of the digital divide.”

Advantages of a 1-to-1 program

Orange County Public Schools kicked the final phase of its 1-to-1 program into higher gear when the pandemic struck in March, Chief Communications Officer Scott Howat says.

The large Central Florida district had supplied all high school students with devices and had planned to complete the process for elementary school students by 2021.

“The issues we ran into we’re not financial, they were supply chain issues,” Howat says. “Everyone was trying to get computers.”

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Over the summer, district leaders asked parents who had a sufficient at-home computer to return district-owned devices to share with families in need.

That gave Orange County an additional 4,300 devices to hand out for online learning this year, Howat says.

Meanwhile, the district, which remains fully remote, continues to receive new devices it has ordered while local philanthropic organizations are donating computers to families directly.

The district also worked to provide devices for the Orange County Virtual School, where enrolled has skyrocketed from about 200 students to almost 5,000.

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