Closing Carson City schools’ digital gap opens opportunities for students | NevadaAppeal.com

Closing Carson City schools’ digital gap opens opportunities for students

Jessica Garcia
jgarcia@nevadaappeal.com

Changes in technology are improving learning outcomes for the Carson City School District, and administrators and teachers want to keep on capitalizing on its success for students, innovation and technology director Raymond Medeiros says.

Medeiros, who recently provided a “state of technology” update to the district’s Board of Trustees meeting in July, said helping students become skilled in technology during their time in the classroom is a primary goal for teachers and administrators. Carson City School District’s emphasis on ensuring equal access to its students in recent years has been equally embraced and supported by parents.

With the middle school and high school years generally accepted as the target age to plug them in for the real world, CCSD has sought to close the digital equity gap between lower-income and middle-income families, providing Internet access or devices to those who might not be able to afford desktops, laptops or broadband Internet. Carson City manages 7,200 Chromebooks, and students who come from all backgrounds are able to go online at home and complete their studies, and it’s been highly successful in a safe, productive manner, Medeiros said.

“Parents overall are excited about (their kids) having access to technology and the benefits to their students learnings,” he said, “but we have surveys that ask if their students are using the technology.”

For the most part, most of the feedback has come from teachers, and it has remained positive.

“In fact, they are advocating for it, quite happily, at the lower grade levels with reductions,” he said.

The devices, or laptops, are not as available for the younger students, but are always budgeted for students in sixth through 12th grades.

Closing the digital equity gap remains a top priority, and ensuring students can create, collaborate and go beyond in their research has made Carson City School District forward-thinking in its approach, Medeiros said. Whereas once students used computers merely to research or produce a report, now they’re expanding their skill sets.

“Students are creating videos … it’s a whole new creative outlet to show what they can do,” he said.

The district’s Nevada Ready 21 grant, however, did sunset this June. The program began in 2015 and it was implemented at Carson Middle School and Eagle Valley Middle School. During Medeiros’ presentation to the board in July, he summarized the results of the grant in which the funding provided five positions, four of which were internal and the other was a state worker assisting the district as needed. Medeiros said the $851,000 in funding boosted Carson City’s resources, namely devices, but especially crucial assistance to the staff. It sparked 21st century skills for students such as collaborative and creative thinking.

“You can put the technology out there, but if teachers don’t feel comfortable taking risks, if they don’t feel like they’re supported, without those staff members in place, it could cause an issue with moving forward with the use of technology,” Medeiros said. “Teachers tend to play it safe when they don’t have quick access to support it. … You go with what works.”

Nevada Ready 21 funding was highly effective in closing the gap for lower-income families with less access to desktops, smartphones and broadband Internet and middle-income families. As it went away, it meant CCSD reverted to its former model of IT support. One dedicated technician has been assigned to Carson High School, the district’s largest site where more IT equipment demands more attention, and another staff member is assigned to the district’s main office at 1402 W. King St., and responds to other school requests as needed. Medeiros said the district continually searches for funding sources to support its burgeoning needs as Carson City grows along with its network needs.

Medeiros said the district also has been able to shorten its testing windows to two days through the direct use of its technology, increasing instructional time and creating a greater benefit to its students. CCSD also offers a student technician program allowing students a chance to develop job skills by troubleshooting, researching and repairing hardware and software problems with teachers’ assistance, and these programs also have been highly successful.

Students with disabilities or special needs also have a chance to overcome challenges, he said.

“We have software we use within our district, and it really depends on what the kids need,” he said. “At this point in time, there seems to be technology for nearly everything, though there are still some disabilities that technology, at least technologies that the district is not able to provide for.”

But the district has been able to make greater advances in assisting those students, he said, and as with its other devices, Carson City School continues to be systemic in its approach and its grant searches to help its students in these areas.

“There’s always fiscal constraints, which generally tends to be our biggest barrier,” Medeiros said. “But we do the best we can with the resources we have. We work as efficiently as possible and we support our staff and students as best as we can.”