Idaho Business for Education collects computers for kids

Laptops donated by Simplot to the Idaho Business for Education Community Activation Project. Photo courtesy IBE.

With less than two months left on most school calendars, and tens of thousands of students missing access to computers or Internet at home, Rod Gramer sees the challenge ahead of him as a “race against time.”

Gramer, the CEO of the Boise-based nonprofit Idaho Business for Education, is spearheading an effort to get Internet hotspots and used laptops to Idaho students who do not have that technology at home, so they can access online learning.

Seven IBE teams across Idaho are collecting used computers from businesses and households with technology to spare. After scrubbing them (of data  and germs), IBE hopes to deliver those devices to tens of thousands of students in districts that have asked for help.

IBE is a nonprofit education advocacy organization comprising 215 business leaders from across the state.

“This is like a 100-yard dash to try to get as many students served as possible,” Gramer said. “I’m trying to be realistic about this in terms of  how many kids we can actually reach. But the concept here is to reach as many as we possibly can.”

Coronavirus-related school closures have intensified a “digital divide” between households that have access to Internet and technology at home, and those without. Nationally, some 17  percent of teenagers say they can’t always complete their homework because they lack access to internet or computers at home. That issue is more severe for students of color and students from low income households.

Idaho’s districts are grappling with these home-connectivity issues as many move lessons online to meet distance-education requirements.

IBE surveyed districts to track this need in Idaho, Gramer said, and got responses from about a third of all districts and charters across the state. Gramer estimates 10,000-15,000 students need computers and another 20,000 need access to Internet.

“It’s just not fair that some kids can access computers and access the Internet to do their studies and to do their papers that way, and other kids can’t,” Gramer said. “To me it’s a fairness and an equity issue.”

Volunteers scrub data and germs from laptops collected by Idaho Business for Education to donate to students in Kuna. Photo courtesy IBE

Gramer’s goal is for IBE to collect and distribute as many laptops and hotspots as possible before May 15. The seven regional teams will be coordinating laptop drop-off and pick-up services. IBE is also collecting financial donations  through an  “Internet for Students Emergency Fund”  that will help pay to get students online. So far, IBE member businesses have pledged $135,000, Gramer said.

With limited time, and also challenges connecting rural homes to Internet, Gramer realizes that IBE won’t be able to get every home online.  The is also partnering with the Idaho State Department of Education and Idaho Public Television to produce educational  programming for kids in grades 3-6 that can reach the vast majority of Idaho homes, even if they don’t  have Internet access.

Those lessons, called “Classroom Idaho: Learn @ Home” will start at 8 a.m. on Monday, April 20. (Click here for more information on that programming).

A few weeks into the Community Activation Project, IBE has collected just over 550 computers. Sixty of those laptops went to the Kuna School District in early April. On Wednesday afternoon, IBE dropped off another 135 in Caldwell.

“I know that sounds like a meager amount,” Gramer said. “But I’m confident that the more we get the word out, the more we will get and the more we can distribute.”

IBE is collecting any laptop or desktop computers that can connect to Internet browsers. Volunteers will scrub sensitive data from the devices and sanitize them before delivering them to school districts.

Businesses and individuals interested in donating should contact their regional IBE team.

Panhandle/Sandpoint: Brenda Carr, [email protected]

Panhandle/Coeur d’Alene: Judy  Meyer, [email protected]

North Central Idaho/Lewiston: Lori McCann, [email protected]

Eastern Idaho/Idaho  Falls: Aaron Johnson, [email protected]

Eastern Idaho/Pocatello: Roger Gibson, [email protected]

Eastern Idaho/Twin Falls: Shawnee Kyle, [email protected]

Treasure Valley/Canyon County: Alishia Jonas, [email protected]

Treasure Valley residents can drop computers off at Kendall Ford locations.

Sami Edge

About Sami Edge

Reporter Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a 2019 Education Writers Association fellow reporting on Latino student outcomes in Idaho. She also is a 2019 American Press Institute fellow. She can be reached at [email protected].

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