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More computers, Wi-Fi access help East End students get up to speed

Nayeli Ramon, 17, from Riverhead, center, is excited

Nayeli Ramon, 17, from Riverhead, center, is excited to receive a Chromebook from computer lab officials Maria Garcia, left, and Angie Carrona at Riverhead High School on Friday. Credit: Randee Daddona

Differences among school districts and family incomes mean some students have access to their own computer and lightning fast Wi-Fi for hybrid learning, while others are trying to complete their history homework on a smartphone. The East End Latino advocacy group OLA is doing its part to tackle that "digital inequity" with a second round of Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hot spots donated to local school districts during the pandemic.

The organization has recently distributed equipment, bringing the 2020 total to $1.75 million raised and 4,500 devices given to 13 local school districts. The donations were made possible through the financial contributions of Michael and Linda Donovan of Southampton.

Although the Sagaponack-based Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island is primarily a Latino advocacy group, part of its mission is to build bridges to the broader East End community through art and education.

"This Chromebook initiative is one that benefits all students, whether they're Latino or not," said OLA executive director Minerva Perez. "It [OLA] is about what can we do to make our entire region safer, healthier and more active."

More than $900,000 worth of Chromebooks and licensing fees, or nearly 2,500 machines, was given to the Riverhead School District alone.

Nayeli Ramon, 17, and a senior at Riverhead High School, picked up her machine Friday afternoon. Having her own computer will make schoolwork less stressful for Ramon, who is studying cosmetology through Eastern Suffolk BOCES.

An emigrant from Ecuador, she lives with her father and cousins in Riverhead. The family shares one older slower computer which she sometimes uses to do school work, otherwise she must use her smartphone.

"It’s a little difficult doing work on the telephone. Not everything works," she said through a translator. "It’s been hard trying to keep up."

Riverhead interim superintendent Christine Tona said the school district, currently on a hybrid learning model, plans to bring K through 4 students back to full-time in-person learning Nov. 30 and students in grades 5 and 6 sometime after that. But even those students will need laptops as positive COVID tests and other factors can cause schools to close unexpectedly and remote learning to resume.

"This is a challenging time in education and we appreciate the efforts of organizations such as OLA," Tona said. "We need to be prepared for the known and unknown. These devices will help."

In the Hampton Bays School District, the initiative funded 250 Chromebooks and 40 mobile Wi-Fi hot spots with subscriptions, totaling about $100,000 in support and serving nearly 300 students, said Hampton Bays School District Superintendent Lars Clemensen.

"From the beginning of the pandemic, OLA was by the side of school districts, working with us to solve problems, fill gaps and serve communities," Clemensen said in an email. "Their work has shone a light on the realities of digital inequity across communities — devices and broadband access are not guarantees in New York State — and this topic deserves our attention at the policy and statewide level."

Student aid

  • $1.75 million funded 4,500 devices to assist students with remote learning

  • Initiative benefited students in 13 school districts from Bayport-Blue Point to Greenport

  • Made possible through a donation from Michal and Linda Donovan of Southampton to OLA, earmarked for this purpose

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