A few Pocatello and Chubbuck businesses will participate in a statewide drive on Wednesday, accepting donated computers and funds that many students may need to learn remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Idaho Business for Education, a nonprofit organization comprising 250 state businesses, will host Close the Digital Divide Day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with collection locations offered throughout the state. Locally, trailers will be set up at Citizens Community Bank branches at 280 S. Arthur Ave. in Pocatello and 850 W. Quinn Road in Chubbuck. Hirning Buick GMC, 509 W. Yellowstone Ave., Pocatello, will also have a trailer onsite for accepting donations.
People may also contribute online at www.idahobe.org/close by clicking the donate tab.
“We don’t have any idea what the upcoming school year will look like,” IBE President Rod Gramer said in a press release. “We have a moral obligation to ensure that all students have equal opportunity to learn and succeed this school year.”
School districts throughout the state, including Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25, are mulling options that may include some distance learning to keep classroom sizes low and minimize disease transmission. For example, a recent local teachers union survey found many district workers favor using alternating schedules, with some students reporting to schools while others study from home.
A survey conducted earlier this year by the State Board of Education, however, confirmed a significant barrier toward moving partially or completely to remote learning. The board found 180,000 students do not have access to an adequate computer and another 30,000 Idaho students don’t have internet access.
Mike Keckler, a spokesman for the State Board of Education, said Gov. Brad Little’s office has set aside $30 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to provide students internet and computer access.
“That $30 million is not enough,” Keckler said. “We encourage people to donate devices and help close this gap.”
Laura Smith, with Idaho Central Credit Union, serves as the chairwoman for the campaign’s Southeast Idaho team. Her employer has already donated 30 of its used computers to help provide remote-learning access to Idaho students and has pledged a $20,000 financial donation for the Wednesday drive.
Smith said donors may specify that they wish for their contributions to be used locally. She said a $350 donation covers the cost of a computer.
Donations of used computers must meet some minimum requirements to be useful: they must have a USB port, a minimum 4-gigabyte hard drive, a power cord and keyboard, at least 2 gigabytes of memory and at least a 64-bit processor.
Smith said United Way of Southeastern Idaho and students from Idaho State University have offered their services to wipe the computers of data from their previous owners and to physically clean the machines.
“My priority is for all students to learn in the new school year, and connectivity and access to devices is an important part of providing learning to all students,” Little said in a press release. “I want to thank Idaho Business for Education and their partners for stepping up, working with the State Board of Education and helping us create greater access to blended learning.”