NEWARK, NJ — About 140 students across the South Ward received donated Chromebooks this week from the Newark Trust for Education in an effort to close the digital divide during the pandemic. 

When nearly 14,500 Newark Public Schools students transitioned back to the classroom on Monday, the move signified a drastic step in mitigating obstacles induced by the pandemic such as learning loss and limited social contact with peers and educators. 

Amiyah Rhymes, a 2nd-grade student at Chancellor Avenue Elementary School, said that when she received her Chromebook on Thursday, it would help her continue her schoolwork. 

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“If my computer stops working, I can use this one,” Amiyah said.

The Chancellor Avenue student is just one of many students who are relying on digital devices right now to stay on track in Newark schools.

To help meet this need, the Newark Trust for Education supplied Chromebooks to students in first through eighth grades whose families qualified for the devices. Students were chosen to receive the technology with input from their school’s parent liaison or social worker. 

By partnering with community groups, the distribution was funded by South Ward Promise Neighborhood. The Leaders for Life helped distribute the Chromebooks directly to families at their location on 84 Clinton Place. 

“[Learning remotely] has been a challenge,” said Amiyah’s mother, Erika Mack. “[The Chromebook] is going to help us out a lot. She wanted to go back to school, but right now is not the best time. We are just going to wait until September to put her back in school.” 

While the primary reason is to get devices into students' hands, Newark Trust for Education Executive Director Ronald Chaluisán said that during conversations with families, it became apparent that having multiple computers in the house allows families the access they need for education, job training, healthcare and socialization.

“We knew there were kids in homes that needed the computers,” Chaluisán said. “They have multiple kids or they’re at home and need multiple devices to make connections to the homes, so we needed to find a strategy to help make that happen.”

By reaching out to local partners like South Ward Promise Neighborhood, a first round of donations helped distribute 100 laptops to students in the ward while this week’s distribution event helped distribute 140 more.  

Another community partner, BRICK Education Network, also pitched in for this week’s distribution event. 

BRICK Managing Director Tish Johnson-Jones explained that by recognizing the struggles families faced during the pandemic, the distribution effort wanted to allocate Chromebooks by student, so households with multiple students wouldn’t be faced sharing a single device. 

“It was important for us to make sure these students had the resources they need in order to be successful,” Jones said.

Although this week’s distribution event was aimed to address the short-term issue of ensuring students in Newark have devices, there remains a long-term goal of creating flexibility of use for them, according to Chaluisán.

By having access to a digital device, the executive director said that the more students become equipped with digital devices, the more it will aid them even outside the classroom. 

“Just having a computer that you can play around with starts to build your digital fluency,” he said. “Beyond using the computer for assignments, you can use it for connections and socialization.”