More than 32,000 students enrolled in the Des Moines Public Schools resumed their coursework this week as teachers in Iowa’s largest school district delivered online curriculum for more than 6,000 sections of classes that students would ordinarily have received in traditional school settings.
The shift to distance learning followed a decision announced by DMPS on April 8 that students would not return to school buildings for the rest of the school year. Instead, the district quickly pivoted to online educational content while deploying a technological infrastructure to ensure that every student had equal access to connect to coursework delivered online. The change affects students in all grade levels, pre-K -12.
“In the year 2020, having an internet connection should be as common as having indoor plumbing,” said Dr. Thomas Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools. “In every aspect of our lives, including education, connectivity to web-based, interactive information is a necessity. One of our top priorities at DMPS is education equity, and addressing this need is a big step forward.”
To achieve that equity and resume coursework for its students, the school district (DMPS) implemented a comprehensive process that began with a district-wide survey to determine each family’s need for computers or a wired home broadband connection. DMPS distributed nearly 21,000 laptop computers to students throughout Des Moines during two weeks in mid-April.
To fill broadband gaps among student families without high-speed internet, DMPS first provided many homes with a mobile hot spot as a temporary solution for immediate connectivity, while also entering into a partnership with Mediacom, the metro area’s largest internet service provider (ISP).
Mediacom has added extra broadband installers to its labor force and is in the process of sending technicians to 100 homes each day to install wiring and activate high-speed internet service for families designated by DMPS.
“This is an unprecedented effort to bring Mediacom’s Connect-2-Compete service to more families than ever, and to work in partnership with innovative education leaders who are ensuring that the benefits of broadband reach all of its student families, said Steve Purcell, group vice president for Mediacom. “The methodical approach we’re implementing in this partnership fills many gaps and puts in place a permanent, robust infrastructure to meet distance learning needs for Des Moines families today, and well into the future.”
DMPS agreed to pay the initial monthly costs for the internet service its families receive through a low-cost, bulk purchase. School leaders made that decision to make sure students would have online access to complete the school year; the monthly fee is $9.95 per family. Mediacom donated the labor and installation costs for connecting up to 1,800 student households, and also reduced project costs by waiving the modem lease fees that customers typically pay.
“This is a smart investment for the school district for a number of reasons,” added Ahart. “Not only does it support our current phase of distance learning, and prepares us for the possibility of this pandemic continuing further, but it also puts in place the infrastructure for future online learning opportunities as well as simply bringing a valuable resource into the home of every student.”
Additionally, this initiative lays the groundwork to reconnect students if distance learning solutions are needed in the future.
These efforts are funded by DMPS in addition to significant contributions from Mediacom and the new DMPS Equity in Connectivity Fund established at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. Dollars from this effort will help cover the costs associated with internet connectivity and access to computers associated with the DMPS district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To make a contribution, please donate here.
This cross-industry collaboration of DMPS, Mediacom and the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines was united by the Greater Des Moines Partnership through their future world of work and diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“This is the right thing to do for numerous reasons,” said Mary Bontrager, Executive Vice President of Talent Development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “Not only do we know the power of bringing organizations together for the betterment of our region, but we also know these students are our future and we need to ensure their access to educational attainment.”