Organization makes donation to help schools buy devices for distance learning

Posted at 6:47 AM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 10:42:00-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s hard for Zolah Williams to stop doing schoolwork since the third grader at Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School in Kansas City, Missouri, received a laptop from her school last week.

The device should help her keep up with assignments while the school building is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We went on spring break and school is done,” Zolah’s mom Janell Williams explained. “To have something she could go pick up from school that was hers and she has that ownership over, I feel like kind of brought that familiarity of school to our house."

Zolah’s younger brother, Charlie, received an iPad Monday to help him tackle his first grade assignments. It means they no longer have to share the one family computer with their parents. And the Williams wouldn’t have been able to buy a laptop and iPad for Zolah and Charlie on their own.

A donation from SchoolSmartKC helped Scuola Vita Nuova buy the devices. In fact, SchoolSmartKC donated more than $1.5 million to Kansas City Public Schools plus charter schools and organizations within KCPS’s boundaries this month, allowing those groups to purchase more than 2,500 laptops or tablets and more than 4,300 WiFi hotspots.

SchoolSmartKC has existed for about four years. It collects donations from groups like the Hall Family Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to fund programs within schools to close the achievement gap among Kansas City’s urban core.

SchoolSmartKC said schools like SVN Charter were making a lot of progress toward closing the achievement gap then COVID-19 and the corresponding stay-at-home orders flipped the educational model upside down.

So the organization pivoted. It had a pot of money with which it was going to fund specific programming, instead it granted that $1.5 million to organizations to buy devices and lend them to students for this semester.

"Our schools were doing great work, they were already kind of addressing these issues, but they needed a jolt. They needed some real support to kind of accelerate that given the unique complexities of COVID,” explained Awais Sufi, the CEO of SchoolSmartKC.

Sufi said by closing the achievement gap students are more likely to stay in school, get good jobs and break the cycle of poverty. He said giving kids access to a computer and internet now could help keep them on a successful track.

Students have to give the devices back to their schools at the end of the semester. But the silver lining is technology isn't going anywhere. Now these schools have devices they can incorporate into the curriculum next school year.