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Kevin Derise

Students will get laptops during first week of school

St. Mary Parish public school students in grades 3-12 will receive their laptops the week of Aug. 10, while laptops will be available to lower grades as they come in.
The school system bought thousands of laptops using Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act money the district received. These laptops will be utilized by students who will be taking part in in-class learning as well as the district’s virtual learning program.
As more laptops come in, they will be distributed to second and first graders and lastly, kindergarten students.
“So pretty much one day, all students in St. Mary Parish will have a device assigned to their name,” school system Chief Technology Officer Kevin Derise said at Wednesday’s “Welcome Back to School Forum” at the Central Office Complex in Centerville.
The devices will use Microsoft Office 365 as their learning platform, something many students already are familiar with from use in the classroom, school system technology facilitator Amy Vaccarella said.
Students in grades Prekindergarten-12th grade will have access to an Office 365 portal, which they can access on their school’s website. They will be issued a username and password.
One difference from years past is an app inside the portal called Microsoft Teams.
Vaccarella said the app will be used often this year. It will enable teachers to have virtual meetings with students, teach the students, and teachers and students can reach out to each other via a call if a student needs assistance. Additionally, teachers will create a “classroom” in Microsoft Teams where they can provide their curriculum to students.
“All the curriculum will be found in a digital notebook inside of teams. … It’s really a magical spot for everyone to go to,” Vaccarella said.
As for specifics on online learning, technology facilitator Susan Dupre said it will involve online activities as well as offline one’s such as reading. She said quizzes and tests can be taken using the technology, too.
The district has utilized virtual learning for students in grades 6-12 for the past nine years, but Dupre said that “we’re treading on new ground by offering online learning in grades K-5.”
While the courses for junior high and high school students are more self-paced, the district will try to “mirror the activities that take place online with face-to-face classes as much as possible” for the younger students, Dupre said.
Adult involvement, especially for younger students in virtual learning, is essential, she said.
“We can’t expect a first grader to be able to remember that he needs to log on to a class at 9:15 on a Wednesday, and he might even need help logging in,” Dupre said.
As for internet access, Derise listed several options. He said that internet service providers are offering special pricing, while school district wireless hotspots will be available at schools or school district offices. The district also has been working with the parish and civic centers to “try to piggy back on their network” or a bus equipped with a hotspot could be parked in an area for a certain time. If none of those options work, Derise said the district would work with families individually to remedy the problems.
Regarding training, students will receive training on the programs that will be utilized when they receive their laptops, while parents will be sent a link using JText for a live training that will take place.
“You can view the training on your cell phone,” Vaccarella said. “You can view the training on a computer, on a laptop, on an iPad, anything that has internet access.”

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