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IBE project seeks used laptops for students

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | April 9, 2020 1:00 AM

A statewide nonprofit of more than 200 business leaders is determined to get computers and internet service into the hands of Idaho’s students.

With Idaho schools closing because of the coronavirus pandemic, school districts around the state switched to online learning. Unfortunately, not all students have the computers or internet access needed for remote learning.

To help, Idaho Business for Education on Monday announced a statewide effort — the Community Activation Project.

"We have a digital divide in Idaho and across the United States. We have kids with resources and kids without resources," IBE president and CEO Rod Gramer said Monday. "The virus is starting to poke holes in certain areas where we had gaps."

IBE sent a survey to school superintendents across the state to understand what the most critical needs in education are as traditional classroom time is suspended. Gramer said when responses came in, two things became clear: The need for devices and the need for connectivity.

"We decided maybe we can do something about it," he said.

Area school districts have been checking out devices such as Chromebooks for student use. Coeur d'Alene has one for every student and has hosted several pickup days. Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said his district has also distributed Chromebooks and "as of now, we have been able to meet the need," he said, adding that Post Falls has shared with families that Spectrum is offering free internet service for those in need. This service is free for 60 days.

Lakeland Joint School District Superintendent Becky Meyer said her district has had two full days of Chromebook checkouts and plans for another day in the future for those who haven't been able to make it yet.

"Our greatest need right now is hotspots for families that do not have internet access in their household," Meyer said. 

Internet is also where Coeur d'Alene is experiencing a gap, said Coeur d'Alene School District spokesman Scott Maben.

"We have a number of families in our community that tell us what they need is internet service so they can connect with their teachers," Maben said. "We’re hoping IBE can address that need."

To fill these needs, IBE has formed seven teams, including in Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene. The Sandpoint team is being chaired by Brent Carr, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Litehouse Foods, and the Coeur d’Alene team is being chaired by Judy Meyer, a local education champion and co-founder of Parkwood Business Properties.

"We have both a challenge and an opportunity," Judy Meyer said.

The IBE Community Activation Project is focused on those two goals: to get devices into the hands students who need them and to provide connectivity to students who cannot access the internet at home.

To make that happen, IBE is requesting businesses and individuals throughout the state donate their used laptops. The computers will be scrubbed clean of data and sanitized by volunteers before being given to students.

“This project is mission critical to the thousands of students in our state who cannot learn remotely without computers and other devices or internet connections at their homes,” Gramer said.

Lake Pend Oreille School District students in grades 7-12 have district-issued Chromebooks as part of a one-to-one learning effort implemented by the school district five years ago.

The project could be a huge help for some families in the West Bonner County School District, Superintendent Paul Anselmo said.

“We are currently providing packets of work to our K-6 students, but estimate that about 200 students in 7-12 do not have a computer at home,” Anselmo said, adding the district is checking out devices to those students this week.

About 75 percent of the district’s students have reliable internet access, and the district is making each of its school sites available for Wi-Fi access in the parking lot for students who need it, Anselmo said.

Their goal is to gather and prepare the devices for distribution between now and May 15.

Meyer said while Chromebooks are available in places like Coeur d'Alene, it's the kids in the rural parts of the state that have the most issues with access to devices and internet.

"The goal is, in the amount of time we have to do the next job, we can to help students be able to maintain their education,” Meyer said. "This a chance for the community to come together and an opportunity for businesses to share their resources."

Email IBE communication director Leslie Barbour at lbarbour@idahobe.org for information about how to donate devices.

"There is a need, we're seeing that for sure," Maben said. "We welcome IBE's help and we appreciate anything they can do. We are just bracing to try to get everyone onto equal footing as much as we can in terms of technology and being connected online. Any help they can provide is great."

Devin Weeks can be reached by email at dweeks@cdapress.com. Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at clobsinger@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.