More electronic devices have been put into the hands of Waxahachie ISD students to benefit them in the short and long haul of their education.

The Texas Education Agency awarded the district a $100,000 grant in August to provide laptops and hotspots to low-socioeconomic students. Waxahachie ISD currently functions as a 1:3 ratio with one device per three students and Chromebooks are available for checkout on campuses.

The device-lending program was implemented on all secondary Waxahachie campuses with an economic disadvantage rate of 35 percent or higher. A total of 98 devices and hotspots were given to Waxahachie High School (41.2 percent economic disadvantaged ), while seven went to Coleman Junior High, 30 to Finley Junior High (54.1 percent) and nine to Howard Junior High (35.3 percent).

The program is nine months in and Ashley Cieri, the digital learning and curriculum coordinator who helped write the grant, said she has already witnessed the benefits. Debbie Needham, instructional technology coordinator, and Ryan Kahlden, WISD assistant superintendent of business and finance, were also instrumental in writing the grant application.

Cieri explained the majority of the curriculum in-and-out of the classroom is heavily internet-based, especially since the district has implemented digital textbooks. The core courses also utilize Google Classroom, as WISD is a “Google district.” Cieri mentioned all high school English teachers have gone entirely paperless and solely rely on an electronic platform.

“The first day was really exciting,” said Cieri when the students received their new Chromebook and personal hotspot. "You could tell by their faces. It was really sweet of how thankful they were, and the teachers were when they saw the students using them in the class. It has made a huge difference in the students’ work and their access at home.”

Feedback from a fall 2018 survey showed that a lack of device availability was a barrier for teachers who strived to implement technology on a regular basis. Through the “bring your own device” initiative, students are encouraged to bring their own device to school. Even though more than 50 percent of students have access to a device at school, “a very large percentage of these devices are mobile phones,” according to the application submitted to TEA.

A survey from the fall of 2017 found 86 percent of students in WISD have reliable internet access at home, which estimated 630 students go without internet connection away from school.

WHS head librarian Megan Mills said she has fostered relationships with the hundreds of students that come through the library and noticed the number of Chromebook checkouts dropped significantly since the device-lending program was implemented.

Jenny Bridges, WISD Communication Director, is in a master's program and is currently studying digital literacy. She explained her coursework stresses the importance of a connected device for the long-term success of the student.

“Programs like this really do prepare kids for the real world,” Bridges emphasized. “If you’re from a home where your parents don’t use a computer, or you don’t have internet access, we are not able to equip them to go out into the world with those 21st-century skills that they need.”

Shelle Blaylock, Assistant Superintendent of Leadership and Academics, explained the district has focused on putting technology in the hands of students for years and successfully made the technology available at the schools. She found the issue was not the access to technology, but the access to the internet along with the accessibility of a device.

Hotspots were available for checkout last year at the high school, but they mainly remained in the library. Blaylock figured the hotspots were not as beneficial to students who needed them most, as they were without a device in the first place.

The new device-lending program solves both of those issues.

In order to qualify for the device-lending program, WISD secondary students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and a 95 percent attendance rate. Applications can be found at www.bit.ly/techtribeprogram.

TEA requires the district to document how the lending program impacts the students’ attendance, academic performance, and how teaching and learning changed since the absence of the device limitation, as well as some changes in the program. Feedback is submitted every nine weeks. Blaylock commended the TEA for requiring district personnel to monitor outcomes of the program since prior grants did not make that mandatory.

When Blaylock mentioned the advancement of the device to student ratio, she said, “Our board goal right now is to have a target of one device per two students. Right now, most of our campuses hit one-to-three ratios, but our goal is one to two students in the next two years.”

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450