Device rollout—when students in Verizon Innovative Learning Schools receive their initiative-provided iPads or Chromebooks—is an exciting time in the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools community, especially for schools new to the program.
But rollout looks a bit different in 2020. While rollout events typically involve school-wide celebrations with speeches and STEM stations that are fun for the whole family, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most schools to pivot to contactless curbside or “drive-through” events to comply with social distancing.
“Students and families stayed in their cars with mandated masks as they pulled up to the front entrance,” said Chelsea Haynes, the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools coach at Newburg Middle School in Louisville, Kentucky, which began its third year as part of the program. “We followed CDC and Jefferson County Public Schools safety guidelines in all aspects of our rollout.”
Families were asked to complete required paperwork and a virtual digital citizenship course prior to picking up their devices, but there were also options to do so in the school’s parking lot on the day of rollout. Many schools also handed out school supplies and other materials students would need while learning from their homes.
“We had a station for each of the materials that needed to be distributed,” said Patty O’Rourke, the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools coach at Akili Academy of New Orleans, a member of the program’s newest—and largest—cohort. “One teacher managed the materials and another teacher picked up all materials for each student and brought them to the car.”
Haynes added the importance of still celebrating the event in its new format. “We made sure to take time to welcome each family to Newburg while still keeping the process rolling quickly for families,” she said, explaining that Newburg’s principal and other prominent school figures were part of the meet-and-greet team.
Despite less fanfare surrounding rollout, students were still excited to receive their own devices. “Many students came with their parents, and they were so excited to receive a shiny new iPad,” said DeAnza Baker, principal at Sunset Vista Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, which begins its first year in the program. “Students were eager to get them up and running so they could begin to explore the device.”
Baker, who also oversaw a “traditional” rollout last year as principal at a different Verizon Innovative Learning School within her district, stressed the importance of being prepared and flexible while planning a curbside event.
“Being over-prepared allowed us to easily modify and adjust the plans instead of being reactive at the last minute,” she said. “Changes in Arizona were occurring daily in regards to COVID. Allow yourself the ability to be flexible so you can meet the needs of the community, students, and staff while working under the ever-changing COVID regulations.”
Baker said she missed being able to observe students engaging with their devices at STEM stations, which she said “created buy-in and showed them that the device could be utilized for more than just completing classwork.” Sunset Vista student devices were prepared with a shortcut on the home screen that linked to a “virtual rollout event” that included STEM opportunities like creating a paper airplane and using Stop Motion which students could complete at home.
Every student and teacher at Verizon Innovative Learning Schools receives a device equipped with a data plan to support learning in and out of the classroom, which is especially valuable in 2020 with most districts beginning the year remotely with a return to the classroom unknown.
“Having devices and internet access is a game changer for our students’ success,” O’Rourke said. “All students are able to have a device. This is especially helpful for families that have more than one student; the students no longer have to share devices and can really work on their own time. Having internet-enabled devices also allows all students to participate in distance learning, regardless of their home wifi status.”
Added Haynes, “We are fortunate to be in our third year in the program and feel as though we were ahead of the game when the whole world was forced to stay home and teach remotely. Our teachers and staff were more prepared than others within our district because of the digital teaching practices and systems that were previously established.”