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The Georgia Department of Education awarded digital learning grants totaling $21,578,263 to 55 school districts this week, including Grady County.
“We were very pleased to learn that grants were awarded to both Eastside Elementary School and Washington Middle School. Both grant applications were prepared by assistant school superintendent Janet Walden and I am most appreciative of her hard work on this project. These funds will assist us in improving our technology and ability to expand our digital learning opportunities. During times like these, we realize that we must adapt so that when the next school closure occurs, and it will happen, we can shift to our virtual education plan and not miss a beat,” Grady County school superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard said.
Evaluators scored both of the local grants with 100 out of 100 points and awarded $125,000 to Eastside and $146,200 to Washington.
With the grant funding, the local school system can purchase 292 computers for Washington and 250 for Eastside, according to Gilliard. The superintendent says he is hopeful the stimulus money will make up the difference and provide for other technological infrastructure, as well.
In addition to the two grants awarded this week, the superintendent told members of the Grady County Board of Education last week that the system is likely to receive $1.3 million in federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES).
Superintendent Gilliard, with the backing of the school board, is hopeful that laptops and tablets can be purchased for all local students.
A major roadblock to virtual learning here is the fact that 25 percent of the system’s approximately 4,600 students do not have access to high speed internet in their homes.
As was reported by The Messenger last week, local school officials are not only looking to improve technology for virtual learning, but also workarounds for those children who do not have access to the internet at home.
“The ‘digital divide’ in Georgia is not a new issue, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more apparent,” state school superintendent Richard Woods said. “School districts have done incredible work during the COVID-19 school closures and have been hard-working, creative, and thoughtful with the resources they have. But there is still a need for better digital learning infrastructure within our state, particularly in rural and underserved communities. These funds will help districts strengthen their digital learning capacity, extend summer learning opportunities, and ensure no student is left unconnected.”
“As we continue to fight COVID-19, I am grateful for the thousands of educators across our state who have adapted to continue providing a world-class education to Georgia students,” Governor Brian Kemp said. “These grants will provide much-needed support as they continue to navigate changing educational landscapes, and I want Georgia’s educators and students to know that they have our complete support in these challenging times.”
Georgia public schools stand to receive more than $450 million in emergency funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), which can be used for a variety of purposes such as helping shore up a local school district’s budget.
Another roughly $105 million in federal emergency funding has been earmarked for Gov. Kemp to give local schools and colleges for remote learning and other resources meant to maintain student studies while in-person classes are prohibited.
Around two million public school students in Georgia have been unable to attend traditional classes since mid-March, when Kemp ordered a statewide closure. Since then, teachers and students have shifted to online classes conducted via video streams and other remote means to finish up the year.
The online method has been hailed as a way for Georgia students to keep up their studies during the pandemic, but many schools are facing resource challenges that the move to remote learning has exacerbated, particularly in rural areas where broadband internet service is spotty.
Grady County teachers have embraced virtual learning during the pandemic, but they have also worked to meet the needs and to provide instruction for children who do not have access to high-speed internet at home.
Packets of printed materials have been routinely prepared and distributed to local students. As the work is completed, students have been returning the packets to their schools for grading as the school year quickly draws to an end.
Editor’s Note: Information provided by the Georgia Department of Education and Beau Evans of the Capitol Beat News Service also contributed to this report.