For the last three years, Aliyah McNeely has had neither a properly working smartboard or strong internet connection in her classroom. Without it, she has found it difficult to explore math and science content with her fourth graders.
As has been the case with other teachers, enriching students has required McNeely to use her own laptop to show videos she wouldn’t be able to otherwise access on technology commissioned by D.C. Public Schools (DCPS).
That’s why, during this budget season, she welcomes the Bowser administration’s efforts to upgrade classroom technology.
“All classrooms should have access to technology. Students’ computers are faster from last year but some keys are missing,” McNeely said.
“They would ask about the videos related to the curriculum when we have to watch it on my computer and not the smartboard,” she added. “I’m not sure if my fourth graders are aware of any disparities. Teachers do a good job of ensuring students have what other classrooms have.”
Though teachers have demanded in-class technological enhancements for years, the pandemic and subsequent pivot to virtual learning inspired a race to bridge resource gaps and ensure each student had a laptop. An infusion of emergency funds at the pandemic’s inception sought to fulfill those needs. However, since returning to the classroom, several teachers have complained about conditions that preclude them from teaching hybrid classes.
Bowser’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal includes a multiyear investment in technological upgrades to classrooms, including 1,500 smartboards. These investments would build upon the Empowered Learners Initiative, through which students in grades three through 12 have each been given a laptop. District officials said the student-to-device ratio has since dwindled to 1:1 in those grade levels and 3:1 for young people in Pre-K, first and second grades.
Linda Campbell, a parent of a student at Jackson-Reed High School, formerly known as Wilson High School, said DCPS could go much further in enhancing its schools’ technological capabilities, especially in the age of COVID when students often have to stay home for days at a time.
“There’s a better way to maintain that classroom contact without jeopardizing others’ safety,” Campbell said. “Students missed a lot of school because they kept getting exposed to COVID. I would hope that DCPS has a year-round hybrid option to make it easier for children to stay home when they get sick.”
Last week, DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee visited Kramer Elementary School in Southeast where faculty members conducted a presentation to highlight how in-class technology augmented DCPS’ curriculum. If approved, Bowser’s budget proposal would not only include those upgrades, but nearly $60 million to replace aging HVAC systems and conduct preventative maintenance to ensure they work throughout the year.
While Joshua Wiley commended Bowser for her efforts, he said investments to bridge the digital divide should have been made much sooner. Wiley, a DCPS assistant principal, reflected on his time in other school districts where leaders prioritized making the 1-to-1 student-to-laptop ratio a reality. He said a significant number of students at his school, ethnicity and socioeconomic background notwithstanding, don’t have a laptop at home.
That’s why Wiley said he’s maintaining hope that the District government follows through on the budget proposal to provide students and teachers with technological upgrades. Doing so, Wiley told The Informer, has become a matter of guaranteeing that young people are adequately prepared for an increasingly advanced society.
“We have an infrastructure and budget that we can use to help advance technology. Let’s strengthen these District public schools,” Wiley said. “I don’t know why it’s taken so long. The mayor runs everything. Nothing moves unless she says so, so all fingers are pointing to her. She has record budgets but she has to put her money where her mouth is.”