School district begins device distribution

HARLINGEN — Alicia Vargas walked out with her new digital device, a smile spreading across the face behind her mask.

“I am grateful,” said Alicia, 17, a junior at Harlingen High School. She’d just stepped out of the school’s front doors Friday with device in hand.

“I thank the district for everything it is doing,” she said as she left with her mother.

The Harlingen school district began its soft launch Friday, delivering digital devices to about 50 HHS students.

“We have been working on identification through preregistration the kids who are in need of devices and who is going to need connectivity for online learning,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development for the Harlingen district.

When the COVID 19 pandemic struck earlier this year, the district closed all campuses and mobilized quickly to develop School@Home. That system allowed students to continue online instruction from home to avoid contracting COVID. Campuses opened briefly this summer before the spike in coronavirus cases forced closure once again.

The district then developed a revised school schedule with the school year beginning Sept. 8. Under this new schedule, students will take the first four weeks of school totally online. In October, the Harlingen district hopes to enter a transition period in which students can have some face-to-face instruction. This will of course depend on the COVID situation at that time.

The emphasis on virtual learning for the foreseeable future has prompted the school district to ensure all students have online capability. In a district with more than 80 percent of families living at the poverty level, this called for administrators to devise ways to get all students on the same playing field, putting digital devices in the hands of every student regardless of financial circumstances.

With those devices in-hand, all students will have equal capacity to Zoom in for online instruction with their teachers. The district has emphasized that use of these devices requires responsibility on the part of students and parents, both of which must attend an online orientation.

“It is going to be an accountability for our parents,” she said. “It’s going to be something that, we’re happy to give them the devices, it’s just something they have to take very seriously with the usage.”

Next week students will pick up more devices at HHS as well as the other high schools. Younger students will pick up devices at their respective middle and elementary schools. Those devices will be I-pads, Chromebooks or laptops.

“We’re very excited that we are able to do this,” Kortan said. “Our theme this year is ‘Engage the Heart.’ We want to make sure we are taking care of our kids. We have to make sure we set the scene, set the environment for them to be successful with online learning.”

She wanted parents to understand the district is distributing these devices in phases over the next few weeks. If parents indicated in pre-registration their students needed devices, they will receive a call to pick them up at a specific time and location. If parents don’t receive that call, they should contact their children’s campuses to inquire when and where to obtain those devices.