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When Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all schools to shut down and move to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, Clairton City School District did not have funding to provide electronic devices to all students.
About 90 percent of nearly 800 students in the district are economically disadvantaged.
So on April 2, Clairton School Superintendent Ginny Hunt and other district officials launched the “Clairton Supplemental Education Fund,” seeking donations to procure more laptops and Internet access.
Although the district had made efforts to provide a Google Chromebook laptop for every student in grades 6 through 12, there weren’t enough for elementary school pupils.
“We basically were at the point of, any little bit will help,” said Alexis Trubiani, district spokesperson.
In a donation letter posted on the district’s website and Facebook, Clairton asked for help purchasing 350 Chromebooks, noting that computer literacy is important to all students “participating in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum.”
By April 19, the district had raised $95,000 to purchase Google Chromebook laptops for students, wi-fi hotspots for families without Internet service, and other technology to facilitate online education, Trubiani said.
The largest donation was received from the Fluhme Family Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation in the amount of $50,000, she said. U.S. Steel contributed $25,000 and additional funds came in from alumni, local businesses, the City of Clairton and the community.
“The generosity of the community, alumni, small business owners and many individuals has been overwhelmingly positive and will provide a brighter future for students and families who will be able to connect with their teachers and classmates online daily for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and beyond,” Hunt said.
Because Chromebooks were already available for older students, the district was able to begin distance-learning on March 30, Trubiani said. Students had devices “when they left school on March 12,” she said.
The district’s technology department is available to repair devices or provide chargers, Trubiani said, and district security personnel are also equipped with extra chargers that are available in an emergency.
Some younger pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as their parents, prefer printed packets instead of electronic devices, Trubiani said.
“Our administration has been working tirelessly to produce and distribute packets to them,” she said.
The school shutdown has brought other changes for students and teachers at Clairton. In lieu of traditional senior projects, high school seniors have the option to engage in industry-based learning, job-shadowing or a pre-apprenticeship program, Trubiani said.
Teachers are using Google Classroom to engage with students, and are available for one-on-one time with students from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week and the district’s social media channels are active 24 hours per day, Trubiani said.
The district’s calendar will remain the same and grades will be determined based on the average of the four nine-week semesters, she said. Graduation has been postponed and commencement will be rescheduled at a future date.
Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers McKeesport Area School District, White Oak and a variety of other topics for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published April 29, 2020.