In an effort to keep teaching children in the community--while coronavirus mitigation measures force educational facilities to be closed--the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) recently started sending home Chromebooks for its students.

All middle and high schoolers were allowed to bring home one of the machines. For elementary schools, principals were asked to give their teachers the opportunity to decide which classrooms needed to take a device in order to best-continue the maintenance of their learning.

“We are reluctant to send home devices for our younger students without an established learning intention,” said Peter Drescher, the director of technology and innovation for the district, in a letter sent to families. “At this point, we are not sending devices home for the PK-2 population.”

Families and students will not be on their own to navigate the unprecedented course of moving to a remote-learning environment as the EWSD’s technology help desk will remain in operation and is available by phone. Students have been instructed to maintain the Chromebooks in good, working condition, and the district expects that they will be returned in the same condition as they left. However, a repair drop-off point at the high school has been established in the event of an accident which requires a machine to be fixed.

Drescher said that having the device at home should be “somewhat routine” at this point in the year for high schoolers, but for middle and elementary school students, it will be a new experience.

Having the Chromebooks at home will allow teachers to use videoconferencing to connect with students in a classroom setting, as well as do any computer-based work they might ordinarily have been able to do in the school or at a local library.

Drescher’s letter made a point that he hopes having the Chromebooks at home will not lead to extensive and unnecessary screen time which the students might not otherwise have experienced beforehand.

“You can and should limit times online, especially outside of the ‘school day, and encourage students to do other activities,” it said. “Exercise outside, read books, do paper activities teachers have sent home, etc.”

The district also addressed cyber safety and encouraged families to monitor what students are doing with the computers.

“Students should be using the devices in open areas of your home, somewhere that an adult can monitor the online activities of students,” Drescher’s letter read. “In other words, it is probably best not to have younger students take them to their individual rooms unsupervised. We have done our best in this short time to ‘block’ online sites inappropriate for students, but parental supervision is the best policy.”

Over the weekend, work assignments, supplies, and the Chromebooks were handed out by teachers, and even Superintendent Beth Cobb, to students and families in school parking lots--some of which displayed encouraging messages such as, “You are Summit. You are Strong.”

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