State grants aid schools’ tech needs | The Berkshire Eagle

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By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD — School districts are working to meet their students’ technology needs in preparation for a remote fall, but some state funding will at least help to fill that gap.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Thursday announced that $32.9 million in remote learning technology grants had been awarded to 253 districts across the state. In Berkshire County, grants included:

– $5,618, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School:

– $29,336, Berkshire Hills;

– $38,499, Central Berkshire;

– $27,560, Lee;

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– $16,519, Lenox;

– $61,293, North Adams;

– $644,819, Pittsfield;

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– $7,847, Richmond;

– $34,693, Southern Berkshire.

In Pittsfield, the money will be used to purchase Chromebooks, as well as Wi-Fi or cell service packages, for students who don’t have access to technology at home, said Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance for Pittsfield Public Schools.

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The district had been encouraged to apply for its full need, Behnke said. While Pittsfield received about three-fourths of the $859,200 it had requested, it will go through other mechanisms to make sure it provides the 1,200 Chromebooks it has committed to supply.

“They were pretty clear that this wouldn’t cover 100 percent of it, but we felt pretty fortunate that the help was there,” Behnke said. “I think it’s wonderful that the state is recognizing how important remote learning is going to be at this time and assisting districts who have a lot of high-needs students to make sure we get technology into our students’ hands.”

Pittsfield’s experience with remote learning in the spring informed the district on what students’ technology needs would be for the upcoming school year. Additional sources of funding could come through Gov. Charlie Baker’s Emergency Education Relief Fund from the federal CARES Act, as well as other grants and relief money.

Yet, districts also are dealing with a new problem: Some Chromebook shipments are getting held up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, forcing some districts to scramble to make sure students have the resources they need for the year.

“It’s making it very difficult for schools across Massachusetts and probably across the country to get technology at a time when we are all desperately seeking them,” Behnke said. “A lot of the stuff we thought we were going to get sooner, the delivery dates were getting pushed to December and January.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

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