Tuesday was not a school day for most DMPS students, as high school juniors were taking the ACT college entrance exam, but a class of sorts was in session at Central Campus. The students were Central teachers and staff, the teachers were Dan Sloan and a team from the school district’s IT department, and the subject was getting set up with brand new laptop computers.
Meanwhile, at Moulton Elementary School one Thursday morning, it was out with the old and in with the new for a 3rd grade classroom. Students lined up with their old computers to put them all in a box, and then headed off to their new machines, logging in, and diving in to a variety of learning programs.
These two scenes are being repeated across Des Moines Public Schools as thousands of new computers are getting set up and put to good use by both students and staff.
The effort is being made possible thanks to the Emergency Connectivity Fund (EFC), a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission and created as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to provide schools and libraries with the tools and services needed to support remote learning. In the long run the program also helps to reduce the digital divide, the gap the exists in some communities when it comes to having access to technologies and the internet.
“This influx of federally funded computers in combination with the streamlining of internal processes and device rotation adjustments will save the school district up to $14 million over the next 10 years,” noted Sloan, the manager of technical services at DMPS. “Just as importantly, the work goes hand-in-hand with the district’s focus on education equity by reducing the digital divide and providing all students with the access to technology needed for learning today.”
In the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to impact much of life, DMPS issued laptops to all secondary students as learning shifted to online platforms. In the months that followed devices were provided to all students. The school district was able to attain and maintain a 1:1 ratio of computers to students by purchasing the older end of lease computers. However, as the 2020-21 school year progressed it became apparent that the older computers were failing and needed replacement. That’s where the ECF program came in to help.
Through a competitive bidding process, DMPS purchased 12,000 new Microsoft Surface Laptop Go devices for students and another 1,600 Microsoft laptops for staff. The total price tag was $8 million, of which nearly three-quarters will be reimbursed with federal funds.
“This effort is important because it means all of our students will have the newest technology at their fingertips,” added Lisa Irey, interim director of technology at DMPS. “Computers and internet access are no longer options when it comes to learning. Setting up nearly 14,000 new computers across the school district contributes to the success of our students and the work of our teachers.”
At Central, Moulton and schools from one end of DMPS to the other, the work of the district’s IT team is making an important contribution to our students’ education.