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Hawaii News

Kauai project prepares for public school distance learning

A Kauai pilot project has been created to improve connectivity for public school students as they prepare for the coming school year, where distance learning is likely to be incorporated in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Kauai Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki, who is retiring at the end of the month, and Paul Zina, who will succeed him, developed the Kauai Education Technology Project with the help of area principals, teachers, lawmakers and organizations after they recognized the challenges for Garden Island students who lack devices for distance learning.

With schools set to begin the new academic year Aug. 4, area lawmakers collaborated with educators and organizations to raise money to provide devices, Wi-Fi hot spots and internet access over a 12-month period for approximately 750 students in pre-kindergarten through high school under the pilot program.

A total of approximately $465,000 was donated by the Atherton Family Foundation, Bank of Hawaii Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Kauai Community Fund, First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaii Community Foundation and Honua Ola BioEnergy. In addition, state Senate President Ron Kouchi (D, Kauai-Niihau) and his wife, Joy Tanimoto Kouchi, contributed $15,000.

Kauai’s teachers provided data showing at least 8% to 10%, or just under 1,000 students, had connectivity issues such as no internet service or hardware.

Also, Kouchi said platforms for teachers were designed more for face-to-face or in-person instruction “but were not as robust as they needed to be to do distance learning.”

Of the donated funds, approximately $190,000 to $200,000 will go toward distance-learning training for teachers as well as acquiring equipment.

“There was just a clear need to do something to get our resources and to prepare the community, our teachers, our students for a new school year,” said state Rep. Nadine Nakamura (D, Hanalei-Princeville-Kilauea- Anahola-Kapaa-Wailua). “There’s a lot of unknowns about how education will be delivered. There are different possibilities. We wanted to plan for the worst-case scenario where students have to be at home.”

In a statement, Priscilla Chan, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which donated $150,000 to the pilot project, said teachers have “gone above and beyond to support their students throughout the pandemic.”

“We’re grateful for their dedication and are proud to support the Kauai Education Technology Pilot Project to help educators prepare for the upcoming school year and to ensure that students feel connected to their classrooms and engaged in their learning.”

The Hawaii Department of Education, meanwhile, is slated to release details Thursday on how schools will operate in the coming school year.

Principals have proposed varying models for schools to consider that include distance learning; blended learning that involves a mix of online and in-person instruction; and face-to-face instruction.

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