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Drive for laptops not over yet

Staff Writer | May 12, 2020 1:00 AM

Project seeks computers, connectivity to close ‘digital divide’

The Community Activation Project is in its final push to get devices in the hands of students and to provide those students with internet access before the school year ends.

"It's amazing just how fast we stood it up and what great progress we’re making," Rod Gramer, president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, said Thursday.

IBE launched the Community Activation Project in late March after school closures put on the pressure for communities to have connectivity to allow students to continue school through remote learning.

In the five weeks since the project began, seven teams across Idaho have gathered 1,200 laptop computers (worth roughly $120,000), distributed more than 1,000 devices to school districts across the state and collected more than $200,000 for the Internet for Students Emergency Fund created in the Idaho Community Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to enriching the quality of life throughout Idaho.

In this process, donations from businesses and individuals have helped get devices to students. However, Gramer said it's become resoundingly clear that connectivity in Idaho will be a major undertaking, especially in the most rural areas.

"That’s really been eye-opening," he said. "That is a much bigger challenge than I thought going into this. That aspect of the battle has gone a little slower; we’ve had to talk to one district at a time to fill the gaps."

School districts and libraries have provided WiFi wherever possible, including library parking lots and buses wired for hot spots. Starting May 18, Gramer said IBE teams will be starting a second phase heavily focused on mapping data, working with providers and closing the digital divide so students across Idaho have the opportunity to learn remotely.

"We're not giving up," Gramer said. "We're going to continue this battle in the second phase."

Donated devices must be less than eight years old and be a Windows-based PC with: • 64-bit x86 processor or equivalent • At least 2 GB of memory (RAM) • USB port • Hard drive (4GB or larger)

Drop-off locations: Trinity Lutheran Church, 812 N. Fifth St., Coeur d'Alene; and the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce, 201 E. Fourth Ave., Post Falls.

For households with access to TV but not internet, Idaho Public Television and certified Idaho teachers are also providing a multitude of educational "Classroom Idaho: Learn @ Home" programming for students beginning with third grade lessons at 7 a.m., fourth grade at 8 a.m., fifth grade at 9 a.m., sixth grade at 10 a.m. and repeating at noon. No cable needed, just an antenna to receive the public access channel of 26.3 in Coeur d'Alene.

"We recognize that there were thousands of school-age kids who were at home who do not have access to internet either because they don't have broadband in their home or don’t have devices, but virtually every home has access to a television," said Idaho Public TV general manager Ron Pisaneschi. "We decided we were going to use the power of public TV to provide instruction to students."

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