Closing the Gap in Tech Disparity

“I want my students to feel empowered,” says Rebecca Lee-Hunt.  A teacher for Adult Basic Education, Lee-Hunt teaches Northstar Digital Literacy. This state program helps students build computer skills in key areas. A lot of students who take a course from Lee-Hunt may know, for example, how to open up and read emails, but they need help in learning how to reply. “I’m hoping to open up lines of communication for students, whether it be with their doctor, employer or child’s teacher. It makes life easier,” she says.

When COVID hit, Adult Basic Education went digital out of necessity. This transition very clearly showcased the need for devices among their student body. “Going digital put our students in a bind,” says Lee-Hunt. Many students don’t have access to a computer or electronic device. “Most students could attend Google Meets on their cell phones, but it wasn’t ideal.”

Lee-Hunt remembers a student not able to attend class because they didn’t have a device. The team jumped into action. Tammy Schatz, program director, began drafting a digital equity plan. She knew steps needed to happen to better support their students. 

As a part of the digital equity plan, Adult Basic Education in partnership with Community Education invested in 30 Chromebooks. This initiative, jump-started from the pandemic, has been a step forward for the program. “One positive from the pandemic, is that we have found some strategies to better serve our students with barriers  that previously prevented them from attending the traditional in-person classes,” says Schatz. 

Students in Adult Basic Education are a diverse student group. The program offers GED testing, U.S. Citizenship test prep, English classes, basic skills and more. 

Currently, the team is piloting the device program among several students. The pilot program allows staff to test the requirements, rules and check-out process. Students are providing feedback on the process. This feedback allows improvement and smooth processes for the distribution of the remaining devices.

Schatz looks forward to continued work on digital equity for the Adult Basic Education Program. Through teamwork with Moorhead Area Public Schools IT department, this first project has begun rolling out. “It’s a massive project but it’s incredibly exciting at the same time,” says Schatz.