In hurricanes’ aftermath, technology eases return to school

Smartphone exchanges, social media, messaging apps and websites rendered students and their teachers at once disconnected and connected in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Now, as the hardest-hit schools reopen, advocates of technology that has been growing ever more present in American classrooms say it will only become more important in aiding students scattered by the storms. This recovery, administrators say, has potential to demonstrate how much instruction can carry on outside school walls amid future natural disasters and other disruptions.

“Oh, it was wonderful,” said Gay Foust, who said emailed and texted materials from Houston teacher Kristen McClintock helped Foust’s daughter, who has autism, cope with the disruption of having to stay at a friend’s home when their house flooded during Harvey.

“We’re not in Miss McClintock’s classroom, we’re not in school, and yet she was able to reach out and check on all of her students and offer any kind of help, assistance,” Gay Foust said.

Florida’s Orange County Public Schools distributed about 75,000 laptops to middle and high school students and teachers earlier this year. The idea even in fair weather is to personalize learning and boost engagement and achievement by providing students with unlimited access to their textbooks and other materials, schedules and assignments.

As schools prepared to reopen after Hurricane Irma, district officials were eager to assess how the devices fared in the students’ care after advising them through social media to charge and then unplug them and seal them in plastic bags. Many teachers posted assignments before school was canceled that gave students a chance to get ahead, and college-bound students could continue preparing for the SATs.

“This is really our chance to make sure all of our systems are working the way we want them to,” said Mariel Milano, director for digital curriculum.

One benefit when disasters strike is there are fewer textbooks to get…

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