While most Augusta students in grades seven through 12 have their school-supplied laptops at home for online learning, concern remains that some students may be left behind because they do not have the same access to technology.

School board members, some of whom expressed concern not enough was being done to keep educating the city’s students during the COVID-19 pandemic, urged administrators last week to get laptops to students so they could use them for online education during the virus-driven closure.

In response, more than 300 laptops and Chromebooks that had been kept at Cony High School were distributed to students and their families. School staff distributed them to families in a drive-thru fashion.

Superintendent James Anastasio said those who assisted in the hand-offs put aside concerns for their own health to ensure students could keep learning outside the school walls.

“Are people putting themselves at personal risk (of being exposed to the coronavirus) by doing so? A lot of people think so,” Anastasio told school board members Wednesday night during a virtual meeting. “But they’re doing it anyway, because that’s what they do. They’re educators. They care about kids and they’ll do whatever they can to help students and families.

“That’s what we’re doing right now educationally, and also in terms of relationships. And trying to be everything to everyone at this point.”


Cony Principal Kim Silsby said staff members wore gloves and masks, and the laptops were passed to students’ family members waiting in their cars, with no personal contact during the exchange. She said many families appreciated getting the devices.

Anastasio said many teachers have already been reaching out to connect with their students. Among the ways they have been working to make connections include closed Facebook groups for parents, Teacher’s Dojo accounts, Zoom meetings with students, creating classroom webpages, reading aloud with students online.

Additionally, in trying to continue contact with all their students, all teachers have daily office hours, when they can be contacted by email or other virtual means.

Officials are also trying to reach all students and their families to have them complete a survey of their needs, including whether they need food or other assistance and whether they know how to participate in online learning.

The fact that survey itself is largely being conducted online — though officials said some students are being contacted by mail or through other means — points out the major limit to online learning: Many Augusta students do not have access to the technology needed to connect with their peers and teachers online. Or some students and their families may already be overwhelmed trying to cope with coronavirus concerns to deal with teaching and learning.

“We want to be careful about what we’re requiring,” for online learning, said At-large Board Member Amanda Olson, because missing out on that would have a disparate impact on students unable to access it. “We need to be cognizant, for both staff and families, this is a very difficult time for everyone.


“We’re all just trying to navigate this world and deal with this crisis. We need to be able to meet students where they are.”

Olson expressed hope the district could find a way to provide laptops and/or hotspots able to connect to the internet to students who do not have them.

Anastasio said that is one reason students who take part in online learning while schools are closed will not be graded on their work or required to learn the material, and no new materials will be presented to them, at least under the current plan.

He said that may be revisited if schools do not reopen this school year due to the coronavirus.

Ward 2 Board Member Chris Clarke said he has heard from parents who want their children, especially high school students, to be given opportunities to learn new material.

Anastasio said administrators would have a plan for how to continue educating students for the school board to review at its April 8 business meeting.

He warned that school staff might need to work on a plan, before summer vacation, for what to do if schools still cannot reopen for classes in the fall if the coronavirus remains a concern.

Outside of the learning aspect, school workers and volunteers have continued to feed local students, and likely some of the students’ family members, during the school closure.

About 3,000 prepared, bagged meals are being distributed each week at multiple sites in Augusta.

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