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COVID-19: Calgarians donate computers to help kids with return to online learning

Students in grades 7 to 12 in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray will be switching to online learning again because of increasing COVID-19 cases starting Monday, which means many families will need access to technology.

On Sunday, a Calgary charity helped out by getting laptops in the hands of students in need.

Read more:
Calgary junior, high schools move to online learning amid rising COVID-19 cases

For some parents who can provide devices for all their kids and who can work from home, it can be a relatively smooth transition to online learning. But not everyone is so lucky.

“It’s basically just saying you are home but you cannot go to your school because you don’t have the computer or the device,” said Gar Gar, the executive director of the Youth Empowerment and Skills (YES) Centre.

Gar said it’s tough to hear from some families who have to choose which of their children get access to the device the family is sharing.

“Families choose who should go in the morning class versus who should step back. Some families would say, ‘I would prefer this kid going to the nine o’clock class and this kid won’t go,’ so they can reverse,” Gar said.

Read more:
Fort McMurray grades 7-12 students moving to online learning

On Sunday, 93 devices were handed out to families in need at the Forest Lawn Community Association building. Used computers were donated and refurbished by volunteers. One woman donated $2,400, which allowed the YES Centre to buy eight new Chromebooks.

“That was the best miracle that could happen,” Gar said. “Those eight kids could be leaders tomorrow, and they could know that one person in the community made that happen.”

Read more:
As pandemic highlights education inequity, Calgary teen raises money for technology for all students

Rita Lado has two teenagers and is thankful for the laptop her family received on Sunday.

“A lot of people don’t have a job. This is such a blessing for some kids that don’t have a computer. It’s very expensive for two kids,” Lado said.

A spokesman for the Calgary Catholic School District said this year, the district lent out about 4,000 laptops and Chromebooks. Students have been able to keep them for the entire school year and will continue to use them as they transition to online learning on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Calgary Board of Education said on Sunday that when students moved to online learning before the winter break, the district loaned out nearly 2,900 devices.

Click to play video: Calgary parents relieved and frustrated over shift to online learning

Gar said there is a waiting list for families wanting a device through the YES Centre.

“It’s sad. Sometimes, we have to turn people away,” Gar said.

But he’s hopeful with the continued generosity of Calgarians, kids will know that during the tough times the community is behind them.

At this time, in-person classes are scheduled to resume on Monday, May 3, but that could be extended.

Alberta Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange stressed the point that this decision to move to online learning “is not a move directed by the chief medical officer of health” but was made at the request of the school boards, which are dealing with operational challenges as COVID-19 case numbers rise.

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