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Bridging Students’ Digital Divide

WPHS hosts community outreach event.

Community Outreach

Remaining FCPS community outreach sessions seeking community input for a digital learning plan include:

Lake Braddock SS: May 28

WolfTrap ES: May 30

Great Falls ES: June 3

Rocky Run ES: June 4

Woodlawn ES: June 10

Dogwood ES: June 12

All sessions will be held 7-9 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Cable Access

Cox Communications is offering affordable internet for families who have a child who qualifies for free lunches through the National School Lunch program. The cost to Cox for internet services for those families that qualify is $9.95 per month. For information on this program visit: Connect2Compete.orig/Cox or call toll free: 1-855-222-3252.

This past Monday evening, May 19, Fairfax County Public Schools conducted the first of 10 community outreach sessions countywide intended to engage interested parents, community leaders and others in helping the school system to develop a vision and plan for the future of digital learning in the Fairfax county public school system.

After an aborted effort to introduce electronic textbooks last year, the school system seeks to develop a fully integrated digital learning plan. Looming large is the likely cost to retrofit the school system that only has by their own admission, “pockets” of successful digital learning programs.

The goal of the West Potomac High School session and the eight more to follow elsewhere in the county through June is to engage the community in helping an instructional technology committee to develop a plan for fully integrating technology for digital learning. Later in the year the FCPS staff will submit a report, proposed plan for the School Board to consider. It will be based on the input of the community, the committee’s research of the literature, the digital learning experiences within the FCPS system, and what other public school systems are doing to integrate digital learning fully into their plans, curricula, and budgets.

Among those in attendance at West Potomac High School were Mount Vernon School Board member Daniel Storck, state Del. Scott Surovell, community education leaders and parents. Surovell introduced state legislation (HB 1915) designed to prevent a so-called “digital divide” in school districts. He defines digital divide as when an economic inequality exists and prevents a new technological innovation from being available to all public school students. He referred As an example, he referred to last year when the FCPS introduced electronic textbooks, but it was brought to a halt when it was discovered that the technology was not available to those students who either didn’t have a computer at home or did not have Broadband access. If his legislation passes it would prohibit the use of electronic textbooks in any Virginia public school system that couldn’t show that the technology was available to all students. It also would authorize digital learning pilot studies in Title One eligible schools. His legislation has been referred for study to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science, and the Virginia Broad Band Advisory Council.

Surovell said that the equity issue is crucially important; every public school student should have equal access to computer technology and the Internet. Surovell said, “I am pleased that the FCPS is revisiting the deployment of electronic learning systems (in this case electronic textbooks). It is wrong for any public school system to make any learning tool available that cannot be equally accessed by lower income families. Hopefully, these community outreach meetings will help to highlight challenges for FCPS and we will begin the process of making computers available to every child in FCPS and ensuring affordable home broadband access for everyone in Fairfax County.”

Storck voiced his enthusiastic support for the community outreach effort: “Our school system has to prepare for effectively teaching all types of learners; we have to ensure that all students have access to technology devices and access to the internet. This will not be easy and , because of budget limitations, we have to use our resources wisely as we move to fully integrate a digital learning program into our county-wide school system.”

Attendees were asked to break up into discussion groups to address the facilitator’s challenge to ask and answer questions about the development of instructional technology learning. Questions that the participants were asked to address included: What are your beliefs about digital learning? What components should be included in the plan for digital learning in Fairfax County?

Discussion group answers were than posted on large bulletin boards for everyone to review. FCPS staff said that these answers/comments would be solicited of parents and others throughout the county, collected by the staff, and analyzed and incorporated into the digital learning strategic plan for consideration by the School Board. Attendance was sparse. Some attendees said that they were not made aware of the meeting until too late to notify others of the meeting and that advance publicity would have generated better attendance.

As part of the session, video presentations were shown of two school districts that were already integrating digital learning into the core of their school system’s operating plans, curricula, and budgets: Katy, Texas Independent school district, and Morrisville, N.C. school district. Testimonials from these school districts were positive about the results of their digital learning programs and the impact on student academic performance and enthusiasm for learning. The staff commented that the FCPS has pockets of digital learning programs that are proving successful as learning tools, but that there lacks a digital learning countywide plan, and that is why the community outreach and formation of the Instructional Technology Committee to formulate a plan in the coming months for the School Board to consider.