Bridging the “digital divide” takes time and money.
Even more so when that divide is accentuated by a lingering pandemic.
Just ask Andy Kelley, superintendent of the North Beach School District.
At a time when the state is anticipating a funding shortage of $4-5 billion compared to pre-COVID projections, Kelly quickly recognized that there is little chance the district will receive additional state funding to cover an unexpected expenditure — the unanticipated demand for at least 375 new computers to support distance learning in the somewhat far-flung district.
So, in early June, only months after passing a levy, he went back to the local community, beginning with local foundations.
The outpouring of generosity from the North Beach/Grays Harbor community was amazing, said Kelly.
““We needed to raise $118,000, and we’ve raised more than $120,000,” Kelly said. “The big grant donations helped, but even the moms and dads coming and and doing whatever they could do was big.”
By Friday, Sept. 18, the district had received over $120,000 in grants, foundation gifts and private donations from individuals within our community. Among the largest contributions:
• Associated Arts of Ocean Shores — $1,000
• Grays Harbor Community Foundation Grant — $20,000
• Lions Club of Ocean Shores — $5,200
• North Beach Youth Foundation (formerly Kiwanis) — $15,120
• Seabrook Community Foundation — $70,000
In addition, the district received 20 private party donations ranging from $50 to more than $1,000 each.
Kelly said he was particularly touched by an elderly couple who came to the district office and wrote a check for $50. “When I thanked them,” Kelly shares, “they both smiled from ear to ear and the husband said, ‘We don’t own a computer and wouldn’t know how to use one, but the kids in our community are all our responsibility and we wanted to do our part to help.’ ”
Frustrating for all involved, the devices, ordered in early June, have not yet been received.
“We’re calling the company every other day,” said Kelly, “but the whole supply chain is backed up. We had hoped to have brand-new machines in the house of every person who needed them by now.”
The pandemic has disrupted the production of devices worldwide at a time of unprecedented demand.
For now, said Kelly, district teachers, students and parents are making do with items “cobbled together” by district personnel. Combining privately owned devices and those that the district already owned, teachers have been able to provide “live” instruction for nearly all students. The district has also provided some families with Verizon hotspots and worked with Coast Communication to create a “school essential” internet package for families in order to address bandwidth issues.
Despite the delay in delivery, Superintendent Kelly believes this investment in technology will change the trajectory of education within North Beach forever.
“The impact it will have on instruction as we return to face-to-face learning. The availability of the devices and our newly learned skills in remote instruction will augment and provide opportunities to learn differently when students return to face-to-face learning.”
For his part, Kelly hopes that will be sooner rather than later.
“In the last 100 years, public schools have become the social services network for everything involving kids,” he said “We’re still trying to do all these things we do when school is in session. We know we need to get back to some sort of face-to-face (teaching and learning). We’re just trying to be as cautious as possible when it comes to every family.”
In the meantime, Kelly is happy to work and live in such a great community.
“One of my greatest joys serving as superintendent in North Beach is knowing that we educators aren’t in this alone,” he said. “The parents and the community believe in our kids and are tremendous partners in supporting our school district and continuing to empower us to improve as a system.”