The CNMI Public School System’s goal is to provide laptops and iPads for every student.
Speaking before the House Education Committee on Tuesday, Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said that PSS has two goals for the summer and the opening of schools: laptops and iPads for every student and internet accessibility for all families and students.
“Those two things will be our priority, and we are almost halfway there with our Education Stabilization fund money,” he said.
With the pandemic, PSS has closed all schools and migrated all classes online as part of precautionary measures to safeguard students, teachers, parents, and staff, and limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
The CNMI got $23.2 million in Education Stabilization Funds under the CARES Act, out of the $154 million allocated by Congress for schools in the CNMI, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
PSS Federal Programs officer Tim Thornburg said that they currently have over 9,000 iPads and 3,000 laptops for schools and, with 10,000 students, there are more devices than students, which he said is good.
“We’re going to have the devices, we’re going to have the connectivity. For low-income families, we will help them secure the connectivity that they’ll need so that all children will have equal opportunities to take full advantage of learning,” he added.
To further reassure families, PSS will also be hiring nurses, in time for the school reopening in September. With the CNMI now at Level Blue, PSS projects a hybrid learning module, where half of learning will be done online, and the other half on campus.
“It’s our goal in September that we have a nurse at every school,” Thornburg said. “Children sometimes get sick at school and we really need a nurse that can help them until their family can come and get them.”
PSS will also be procuring thermal imaging cameras, and every teacher, staff, and student will have their temperatures taken.
Aside from the devices and the nurses, the Education Stabilization Fund was also used to backfill the hole in the local budget. According to Thornburg, almost all of their personnel now are temporarily federally-funded. Utilities were also paid through the fund.
Teachers will also be trained on how to better use technology to effectively connect with their students and sanitizing instruments will also be procured to sanitize schools daily.