CAMDEN, NJ — The height of the COVID-19 pandemic put mounting pressure on the Camden school district to pull off a staggering task: outfit thousands of students with the technology necessary to transition to at-home-learning.
Cue the Office of Information Technology.
Prior to March 18 when the Camden City School District (CCSD) closed its buildings, 2,290 of the district’s 6,101 students were part of the 1-1 program (not including renaissance and charter schools).
The program is designed to provide an individual laptop or tablet to students to correspond with their coursework.
“We received notification on March 13 that schools would close, and we knew we did not have 1-1 in all of our buildings, just pockets of our buildings,” Tiffany Godette, senior director of the CCSD’s Office of Information Technology, told TAPinto Camden. “We knew from speaking with [Superintendent Katrina] McCombs, that it was imperative we get necessary technology."
To date, the district has distributed over 5,200 devices — including hundreds of tablets — to students.
Providing them was a logistical nightmare.
With money for devices — partly acquired through philanthropic provisions — a date to schedule the delivery and a place for their arrival had to be mapped out.
As trivial as it may sound, Godette reflected, mere logistical reasons could've meant significant setbacks.
“It was unprecedented what we were dealing with so you saw that in things like procuring devices and finding inventory. You’d call a company, have an idea of the date, and then call back to find out they were out of stock,” Godette said.
Once they were able to track them down, the shipment would arrive April 13, giving the 8-person team less than a week during Spring Break to unbox, re-package and properly sanitize thousands of devices for distribution.
Also, the tech team had to set up each device with both the requisite software and virus protection.
“Another challenge came in making sure the devices were protected,” Godette said. “Making sure students had the internet of course, but also that their information was not susceptible [to online theft] since they would be at home.”
Comcast came in handy as far as providing free internet, and the Camden County Police Department (CCPD) was crucial during distributions held citywide.
“Distributing was big, as we wanted to ensure it was safe for students and parents to come out without feeling vulnerable,” Godette said. “So we worked with the district’s various teams and the CCPD to enforce social distancing...and provide the proper PPE, which was limited everywhere.”
Keeping morale up among her team was among the highest of priorities, Godette said, as they were also confronting the pandemic on a daily basis.
“It all became worth it when we saw the students eyes...it was definitely worth every bit of hard work and negotiating,” she continued, “to see the city’s digital divide begin to close, and let them know they were valued.”
Whether New Jersey schools will have in-person classes in the fall semester or transition to a combination of virtual and live learning, Godette said the CCSD has taken steps so it’s students and staff have up-to-par technology for whatever scenario.
“It’s going to be a different landscape,” she said. “We may not know what it will look like exactly, but we know we have the tools we need."