Memphis district distributes laptops, hotspots to help struggling students graduate this year

Shelby County Schools distributed laptops and internet hotspots to high school students who are taking online classes to improve failing grades while school buildings are closed. (Shelby County Schools)

Memphis high school students who are not on track to graduate or advance to the next grade received laptops and internet hotspots to help them catch up while school buildings are closed over coronavirus concerns.

Shelby County Schools distributed laptops and mobile devices for hotspots at its central office Wednesday for students participating in the district’s Project Graduation online classes. The district identified 140 seniors of the 500 seniors in the program who needed a laptop and a hotspot. About 900 high school students are in the program.  

Shelby County Schools staff sort through student names during a laptop and hotspot distribution Wednesday. (Shelby County Schools)

“Our theme is stay focused, finish strong,” said Valerie Matthews, the director of alternative schools. “Our school year was interrupted, but we will not let learning be interrupted. We are committed to supporting students virtually and celebrating their successful completion of all coursework and achievements.”

The district drew from its existing inventory of laptops for the distribution. District officials did not immediately disclose how much the hotspots cost, but said the district paid for them. 

The effort is a preview of what could come if the school board approves Superintendent Joris Ray’s proposal to get laptops and internet access to the district’s more than 100,000 students. Census data show that in some neighborhoods, fewer than half of households have an internet subscription. Most of the district’s students live in poverty.

Project Graduation started five years ago with night and online classes for students who were at risk of dropping out of high school. The program was recently adapted to help students improve failing grades during the pandemic with online classes running from April 27 to May 22. Teachers plan to check in with students three times each week. The district also distributed paper packets with information about its Homework Hotline.

Shelby County Schools buildings have been closed since March 13 and will remain closed the rest of the academic year. Emergency rules approved by the State Board of Education earlier this month allow students who were on track March 20 to pass their classes to graduate or be promoted to the next grade.

Update, May 1, 2020: This story has been updated with the number of laptops distributed Wednesday and who paid for the hotspots.

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