The Hollister School District is close to delivering 4,500 laptops to students since schools transitioned to distance learning in mid-March. Last week, families lined up at a two-hour drive-thru to pick up what will replace textbooks for the foreseeable future. The first day of instruction is Aug. 17.
The district handed out laptops to students from R.O. Hardin, Calaveras and the Accelerated Achievement Academy campuses on Aug. 5; Gabilan Hills, Hollister Dual Language Academy, Rancho San Justo and Marguerite Maze campuses on Aug. 6; and Sunnyslope, Ladd Lane and Cerra Vista campuses on Aug. 7.
Superintendent Diego Ochoa said some families received up to four computers, one for each of their enrolled children.
Among those who received multiple computers was the Guerrero family. Tiana Guerrero, a mother of five, said that while she believes her children should receive instruction at school because it’s a better learning environment, she appreciated the district’s efforts to help families with distance learning.
“I’m grateful that they provided them because that would leave a lot of parents in a hard place to be able to provide a computer for their kids,” Guerrero said. “I just fully believe the kids need to be in school.”
Guerrero said she hopes the new school year goes smoothly. Her youngest struggled last year and gave up on distance learning in the last two weeks of school.
“It’s going to be very challenging for them,” she said. “Sometimes the computers have issues. I know my daughter had issues at the end of last year with the computer and getting help with the tech support wasn’t the greatest. I wasn’t even responded to.”
Among the parents who would face a difficult situation without the computers is Norma Alfaro. A mother of four—three of whom are school-age children—Alfaro said HSD is helping students and alleviating the financial hardship her family faces because of COVID-19.
“Mi esposo trabaja bien poquito y no tenemos para comprar una computadora,” Alfaro said. (My husband works very little so we don’t have money to buy a computer.) She added that her husband works in landscaping and she cleaned houses prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adonis Alfaro, an R.O Hardin student and the youngest of the three school age children, said he relied on paper packets to finish last year and was nervous to start school online because of his minimal computer skills. The school district will still offer paper packets for transitional kindergarten through second grade on a site-by-site basis. The packets are meant to help students practice with writing, spelling and drawing.
Ochoa said it was important to make sure students have the tools to continue their education from home, and that it was equally important to familiarize teachers with the new format of instruction.
“Everybody wants to be back at school in a regular campus when this pandemic is under control and when people are healthy and could be safe on campuses, but I think knowing that we are prepared to provide all these children with their devices and with wifi hotspots, I think they are very appreciative,” Ochoa said.
The district spent about $350,000 for online software services for the school year, including English curriculum by Bench Mark Universe, a reading intervention program by Orton Gillingham, Eureka Math in Sync program by Great Minds and a Footsteps2Brilliance literacy package for pre-K through grade 3. HSD also provided 1,000 WiFi hotspot devices last school year to help disadvantaged students continue their education while sheltering in place. Families were allowed to keep them through summer and this school year. Ochoa said the district will be handing out hundreds more this school year.
“Because of the pandemic we’re obviously feeling that for equity reasons, we have to give these tools to the children because we don’t physically have them seven hours a day,” Ochoa said.
Teachers were required to learn the software themselves before starting with the new curriculum. Ochoa said district staff in June completed seven days of training provided by each vendor on the use of their program and best practices.
While the teachers will continue to provide instruction, most of the programs also include video tutorials in English and Spanish. Ochoa said this year HSD had no choice but to purchase the online tools because of COVID-19.
“We really feel it’s the combination of those three things: the device, the curriculum and the trained staff member,” Ochoa said. “We just think it’s going to set us up for a great 2021.”
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