New Haven schools to ensure every student has computer, internet access for distance learning

Angelena Iglesia

NEW HAVEN — Through a series of partnerships, gifts and strategic spending, school and city officials are promising an electronic device for every student and internet access for students’ homes. New Haven schools to ensure every student has computer, internet access for distance learning New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker (left) […]

NEW HAVEN — Through a series of partnerships, gifts and strategic spending, school and city officials are promising an electronic device for every student and internet access for students’ homes.

On Tuesday, two days before the district begins the school year for all but pre-kindergarten, officials announced that the roughly 21,000 students in the district will have a laptop or other device to start the year off right.

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“The dream has been fulfilled,” said Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey.

After schools closed abruptly in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Haven officials struggled to get all of the district’s students to access their classes — which were transferred online. At the time, the district had about 5,000 fewer laptops to disburse than students. About 10 percent of students — roughly 2,000 — were completely disconnected from learning in New Haven. Recently, the state reported only about 30 percent of New Haven students were regularly engaged in learning, attending all their classes and completing all their assignments.

“Dr. Tracey and her team are working very, very hard to make sure every child has access to a device,” said Mayor Justin Elicker.

Although Elicker and Tracey both have expressed their preference to see students receive some in-person instruction should families so choose — the proposed model would place students into two cohorts that alternate days in buildings with teachers and has been dubbed the hybrid model — a majority of the Board of Education voted that the first 10 weeks of school be conducted entirely online. Even under the hybrid model, though, students would require a laptop to complete their instruction during days when they are not in school.

The more than 21,000 laptops were procured through donations from the since-disbanded, Dalio Foundation-backed Partnership for Connecticut; Yale University; the state Department of Education; and some private donors.

Tracey said some surplus devices will be kept by the school district to accommodate things such as damaged or broken devices.

“Technology has always been a part of our learning; now it’s going to be a much more regular part of that,” said Assistant Superintendent Paul Whyte.

The district also has received assistance in spreading internet access to the school community. District officials have installed a mesh network of internet routers to schools in high-need areas and plan on installing routers to 13 buildings total by the end of the month.

The state is funding 10,000 Comcast basic internet accounts and 3,000 Kajeet SmartSpot hotspot devices for public school families in case of connectivity issues.

As Elicker, Tracey and other officials spoke with the press in front of Career High School, some high school students arrived to collect the laptops they will be using this year.

Rising junior Joshuwa Papalotzi said he didn’t find instruction in the spring, during the emergency transition to online learning, to be fulfilling.

“It’s better when there’s a teacher there to explain things,” he said. “It was kind of frustrating.”

Tracey said schools are responsible for contacting families about picking up their laptops, which they have been doing through the ParentLink program. She said the process can be difficult, though, because there may be outdated information entered into that program.

“We rely on the phone numbers in our PowerSchool network, so some parents may not have the right phone numbers because the phone numbers keep changing. That’s one of the challenges we have,” she said.

Nijija-Ife Waters, president of the Citywide Parent Team, has been critical of the district’s communication.

“The district leaders’ communication to parents has been awful with school being a couple days away and it does seem like some schools are more effective than others (with communication) which is not cool,” she said in a text message. “There should have been an evening time pick up for devices for the working parents.”

Elicker said city officials know there will be difficulties having everything run perfectly smoothly.

“I think it’s not going to happen in an instant,” he said.

brian.zahn@hearstmediact.com

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