Photo: Elementary school youngsters show off their new devices received with the DCS Digital Learning Initiative. (Courtesy photo)
A good majority of today’s youngsters are fairly tech-savvy and love to be around mobile devices, like tablets, iPads, and computers.
So there may be more than the usual smiles around DeSoto County Schools (DCS) campuses, as students this week began to receive new digital materials they can use for the rest of the school year.
There’s no gaming on these items, however. They are being given iPads and laptops as part of the learning process with the start of the DeSoto County Schools’ Digital Learning Initiative.
The Mississippi Legislature last session funded $200 million to the Mississippi Connects program with the passage of two laws, the Equity in Distance Learning Act (SB 3044) and the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act (HB 1788).
Mississippi Connects is the state Department of Education’s move to get technology to every public school student in the state.
DeSoto County Schools received funding for more than 25,000 devices that they began issuing to students during the third nine-week period of the school year. The roll out of the program started this week and will continue into February.
“This was something that we knew would be great for our students but when the opportunity presented itself we felt this was a great time to get started,” said Amanda Samples, DCS Executive Director for Academic Support and School Improvement.
School officials are quick to say that this is not a move to 100-percent virtual learning. In-person learning continues and the devices will be used in the classroom, but those who are taught virtually will also use the district devices.
““It doesn’t replace what’s happening in the classroom but it blends with the classroom,” Samples said.
iPads are going to youngsters in kindergarten and first grade. Second graders will have the choice of iPads or laptops and starting with the third grade, laptops are being provided.
Students through grade five will keep their devices in school unless classes are dismissed early or the student has to go into COVID-19 quarantine.
Grades 6-12 students can take the devices home if the usage fee is paid, a fee that will range from a $12.50 non-refundable usage fee for each student in grades K-5 and a $25 non-refundable usage fee for each student in Grades 6-12. Since the program is starting in the middle of the school year, the usage fees are being prorated to $6.25 for Grades K-5 and $12.50 for Grades 6-12.
Students who paid a usage fee through the Virtual Instructional Program (VIP) program will not be assessed another annual usage fee. Students transitioning to the VIP program for the third nine weeks, will be assessed a prorated at-home usage fee of $12.50.
The school devices are taken care of by district personnel, and all devices will have the latest software when available, so DCS wants students in the program to use their devices.
Samples said this is the initial run-through of a program that will go into full operation next school year. With this in mind, all of the devices will be collected when school is dismissed in May with plans to re-issue them when the new school year begins.
“At the end of this school year we will do a ‘collect and refresh,’ Samples said. “This is the start of our initiative and this is our pilot semester and we’re going to learn what works and what doesn’t work. The full implementation roll out will come in August.”
At DeSoto Central High School, principal Cliff Johnston said his students are excited to get the laptops.
“It’s going to take a week or so to get them all out to all of our students,” Johnston said. “The students that are receiving theirs are very excited about the opportunity.”
Johnston sees the initiative advantages to keep instruction going when youngsters can’t be physically in class.
“When students are out sick or have to miss school, they can stay caught up through our online system with Schoology and everybody will have the technology available,” Johnston explained.
Samples believes the addition of the devices will also serve a purpose in teaching youngsters how best to operate in the high-tech age.
“Not only are we focusing on how to use the devices itself but also digital citizenship; how to interact digitally with others and how do you communicate using digital,” Samples said. “Those are all skills that will prepare for another level when thinking about career and college.”
More information on the program may be found on the DeSoto County School District website at: https://content.schoolinsites.com/api/documents/b6b2054d1f5c477ea32a8bad84ef9519.pdf