The Burke County Board of Education’s decision to start school remotely left many parents with questions about access to resources.
One of the main concerns parents had was regarding the issue of laptop devices, and whether all Burke County Public Schools students would be able to complete their schoolwork, as many students do not have laptop devices in their homes.
Parents’ fears were alleviated last week when Melanie Honeycutt, BCPS chief information officer, confirmed Tuesday during Patton High School’s device distribution that every student throughout the district will be receiving a device.
This is thanks in part due to a donation received from Lenovo. The computer manufacturer, which has its operational headquarters in Morrisville, issued 5,000 Google Chromebooks to schools throughout the state, including 1,400 laptops to Burke County Public Schools.
According to Libby Richards, Lenovo community engagement manager, the donation was done in partnership with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s office and N.C. State University’s Friday Institute. The institute conducted surveys across the state and contacted school public relations officers throughout the state to determine which areas were most in need.
Richards said Lenovo has made contributions of about $13 million worldwide, including roughly $1.5 million in North Carolina.
“We recognize that technology is playing a really important role in education — in the classroom, at home — and that was prior to COVID,” Richards said. “Digital transformation has just been really accelerated when schools were closing quickly and shifting to remote learning. Part of our business and part of our culture is giving back. We recognize that as a company that manufactures and makes these tools that are so needed right now as students, parents and teachers are trying to continue the learning process, we wanted to give back and make an impact.”
Richards said Lenovo is planning its October “Global Month of Service,” and has reached out to Burke County Public Schools about participating in some way, including assisting teachers with virtual learning.
According to Honeycutt, third-, fourth-, and sixth- through 12th-graders will receive Chromebooks.
The school system's device fees are $25 for one, $35 for two, and $50 for three. Honeycutt said the fee covers the cost for the system to self-insure the devices.
“The fee helps us offset any costs that may not be covered under any type of warranty,” Honeycutt said. “This will cover the costs if the device is to be broken, stolen, lost, run over by a tractor or any of that stuff.”
Honeycutt said the fee allows a student to receive a “loaner” device in the event that the original device is damaged, such as a cracked screen. The device fee also allows the student to use the laptop for the whole year.
Cheryl Shuffler, BCPS public relations officer, said families who have concerns about paying the device fee should reach out to the school principal and school counselor.
Honeycutt said there are certain benefits to using Chromebooks that make them popular among the students.
“There’s a lot of interest in Chromebooks at a lot of different schools,” Lenovo’s David Hamilton said. “They’re very reliable devices. They’re user-friendly. They’re also durable, which also in the school setting can also be banged around a little bit in a kid’s backpack, or at home if they’re doing remote learning.
“A Chromebook is a rugged laptop, but it’s also one that can do a lot of things. (The device being user-friendly) is super important for K-12 students to be able to understand the technology that they’re using.”
During Tuesday’s device distribution at Patton High, the school handed out 800 Chromebooks. In total, the school system plans to distribute 12,400 devices, according to Honeycutt.
“There are many students who do have access to resources at home, but there are also many who do not,” Hamilton said. “We wanted to make sure that the students who did not have devices could still continue with their studies and not fall behind their classmates, who may have a device.”
“It’s exciting that we were able to make this happen and make it possible for students, parents and teachers to be connected during this time and have the tools they needed for this upcoming school year,” Richards said. “This digital divide that we see across the country, the COVID pandemic is really widening that. We were glad to be able to provide this support and hopeful that this will help bridge some digital divides and make students and classrooms best prepared to move forward here during a really challenging time.”
Johnny Casey is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 828-432-8907.
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