COVID-19 & Remote Learning

Des Moines Equips 21,000 Students with Devices

The largest district in Iowa distributed almost 21,000 laptops to students during April to enable them to attend classes online. Des Moines Public Schools resumed coursework during the last weeks of April, when teachers delivered 6,000 sections of classes remotely. The shift affected 32,000 students, from pre-K to grade 12.

Before the deployment, the district set about surveying its families to determine individual need for computers and home-based internet connections.

The computers came from existing district stock and new purchases.

To provide broadband where it didn't exist, initially district officials provided mobile hotspots to many families as a stop-gap measure. Simultaneously, the school system signed an agreement with Mediacom, the metro area's largest internet service provider. The company boosted its staff and is in the process of sending technicians to 100 homes each day to install wiring and activate high-speed internet service for families designated by the district.

"In the year 2020, having an internet connection should be as common as having indoor plumbing," said Superintendent Thomas Ahart, in a statement. "In every aspect of our lives, including education, connectivity to web-based, interactive information is a necessity. One of our top priorities at DMPS is education equity, and addressing this need is a big step forward."

The district paid the initial monthly costs for internet service, through a "low-cost, bulk purchase." Mediacom donated the labor and installation costs for connecting up to 1,800 student households. The company also waived modem lease fees. Eventually, families will be responsible for covering the $9.95 monthly fee to continue the service.

"This is a smart investment for the school district for a number of reasons," said Ahart. "Not only does it support our current phase of distance learning, and prepares us for the possibility of this pandemic continuing further, but it also puts in place the infrastructure for future online learning opportunities as well as simply bringing a valuable resource into the home of every student."

He noted that the project lays the groundwork to reconnect students if distance learning solutions are needed in the future.

The work of equipping students with devices and internet access has been financially supported by Mediacom as well as the new "DMPS Equity in Connectivity Fund," established at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, which is still taking donations.

The district's DMPS@HOME effort includes an online hub where families and students can find educational resources, request subject workbooks for pre-K-8, order printed materials and participate in Canvas, the district's learning management system.

For graduation, the district is planning "personal commencements." Each senior will be assigned a time range to arrive with no more than two guests. Each senior will walk across the stage in his or her cap and gown to receive a diploma and have a graduation photograph taken. As in the past, the events will be filmed and aired at a later date on local media and made available on the district and high school web sites and social media pages. Those commencements will take place throughout June.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.