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Springfield Schools Provides Laptops To Thousands Of Students During COVID-19 Crisis

Since Governor Charlie Baker ordered Massachusetts schools closed in mid-March, teachers and parents have been grappling with educating students at home.

The Springfield Public Schools have now started handing out more than 9,000 laptops to make remote learning easier.

On Monday, parents pulled up in their cars outside the Boland Eementary School in Springfield to get laptops for their children. Three teachers wearing masks were ready to check them off a list.

The program is open to students in kindergarten through high school, who don’t have a computer at home.

Maria Virola was getting a laptop for her grandson Tyriece, who’s in 5th grade. She said he's had a mixed experience with remote learning so far.

“It’s okay," she said. "Good days and bad days. He’s still trying to do some work at home, like workbooks and stuff that he had, but it’s not like what he’ll be able to do now. So this is good.”

Vincent Weldon and Tamisha Williams were also there to pick up a laptop for their daughter Imani, who is in 1st grade.

Imani said she was happy to be getting a computer. "It will help me learn...better," she said.

About 20% of students were already taking a computer home each night, before schools closed because of COVID-19. 

Paul Foster, who oversees information technology for the district, said Springfield isn’t buying new laptops.

"They were in the schools already," he said. "So what we’re really doing over the next five days is taking the laptops we already had and making them available to students who are now having to do some learning from home."

Some districts have already been handing out computers or tablets for a few weeks, but Foster said the rollout in Springfield took time to execute.

"I think we wanted to be careful about it in terms of — plan it and plan it well," he said. "Some of it is just scale. I mean, we’re larger than any other district in western Mass."

Teachers at the Boland Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts, prepare to give a laptop to a parent.
Credit Alden Bourne / NEPR
Teachers at the Boland Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts, prepare to give a laptop to a parent.

With all Springfield students having access to a computer, the remaining hurdle could be access to wifi. But Foster said that shouldn't be an issue, because Comcast has made its Wi-Fi network public — at least during the COVID-19 crisis.

"That has coverage in pretty much all parts of Springfield," he said. "That just means any of our students with their take-home laptop can just sign in to the Xfinity Wi-Fi."

Foster said the district will also be delivering laptops to about 175 Springfield students who live in homeless shelters.

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