Burbank public school students pick up laptops and hot spots for at-home study

Kenny Knoop, Burroughs High School's assistant principal, passes a Chromebook laptop to a student using a hand-held grabber during the second distribution day of the devices.
(Raul Roa/Burbank Leader)

Three weeks after Burbank Unified school campuses shut down, district officials pulled together plans to begin distance learning. The first item on the agenda — organize distribution of technology and other educational materials to students.

The school district shut down schools beginning March 16 and pushed back earlier plans to launch a distance-learning model from March 30 to April 6.

From the start of school closures, Supt. Matt Hill announced the district would keep campuses closed until local education and health departments deem it is safe to resume in-person classes.

Given the Safer at Home order, Hill wrote in an email to parents on Thursday that high school proms scheduled for May are canceled, and final decisions about other end-of-year celebrations will be outlined in the weeks ahead.

Burroughs High School is closed until further notice, according to an electronic board at the school in Burbank on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
(Raul Roa/Burbank Leader)

Throughout this week, students and their families made their way to their respective school sites to pick up Google Chromebooks, mobile hot spots, paper packets for instruction and books.

Principals from each school organized technology pickups. Burroughs High School distributed 300 Chromebooks on Monday and Wednesday.

On the first day, students were instructed to show up at a specific time determined by their last name to maintain public health officials’ recommended social-distancing measures. On the second day, there was a two-hour period open for the remaining students to stop by their school.

Prior to distribution, staff sanitized the digital devices with wipes and placed them in plastic bags. Workers at pickup stations wore face masks and gloves. Some staff members opted to use a hand-held grabber.

Burroughs High School assistant principals Kenny Knoop, from left, and Miriam Wazirkajoyan help principal Deborah Madrigal and assistant principal Steven Hubbell pass out Chromebook laptops to students during the second distribution day.
(Raul Roa/Burbank Leader)

The California Department of Education put together state guidelines for distance learning — a general term leaving the details of the curriculum up to school districts and individual teachers. The guidelines recommend schools to assess whether students have access to the internet and digital devices.

Burbank Unified took inventory of students who need technology assistance through a Google Form survey. Out of 13,000 responses, about 1,300 students indicated they needed a Chromebook and 300 households needed internet access.

District officials are waiting for responses from 1,700 students and plan to mail letters to their families.

“We are trying to support families that have multiple BUSD children in their household. And we are focusing on [students with the most need such as those from low-socioeconomic, English learning, foster or homeless backgrounds] to start, but currently it looks like we can support all families that indicated they don’t have a device at home for their child to engage in school work,” Hill said.

In addition to students, the district loaned 184 Chromebooks to faculty.

Burbank Unified distributed Chromebooks already stocked in schools and ordered an additional 1,200 Chromebooks from Staples and 350 hot spots from Saturn Wireless, a company working with a variety of school districts nationwide.

Burroughs High School passed out Chromebook laptops to students during the second distribution day.
(Raul Roa/Burbank Leader)

The total price for technology racked up to about $300,000. The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation donated a $75,000 grant to cover some of the costs and the rest of the amount was financed with Measure S bond funds.

Hill said district officials are hoping state, federal and foundation funding will cover technology expenses and are grateful for the partnership with the Chuck Lorre organization.

Although hot spots were purchased through Saturn Wireless, the district was able to enter into a month-to-month agreement with T-Mobile. Hill estimated the deal saves about $200,000.

“We are currently the only company nationwide with inventory of hot spots, which are in huge demand currently but the supply is extremely low,” said Manika Sood, founder and chief executive of Saturn Wireless.

“As you know, every school, government agency, hospital and corporations need hot spots in order to set up Wi-Fi for the remote set-up for their students or employees,” Sood added.

For most students in the Burbank Unified district, distance learning will entail interacting and completing assignments through Google Classroom. The last day of instruction on the district’s online school calendar is listed as May 21.

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