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1 to 1 Technology Initiative Supports Omaha Public Schools Students

In just a few months amid a global pandemic, Omaha Public Schools went “1 to 1” by investing in more than 54,000 iPads with built-in internet connectivity for the students of our community. As students return to the classroom virtually, this essential device will help them succeed during remote learning.

Based on the global supply chain, iPads arrived in waves beginning in August, and all devices were delivered as of Sept. 21. With more districts moving to remote or hybrid learning models, technology has been in high demand.

“We recognized right away last spring that if we’re in this situation again, we need to be prepared,” Bryan Dunne, director of Information Management Services, said. “The grandness of what we’re trying to accomplish with the number of people we’re trying to get the device and internet to normally would be done in longer timeline. I think we are fortunate that we did proceed last spring.”

The district learned many lessons after pivoting to fully remote learning in March. Teachers, administration and technology staff worked together with families for everything from distribution to logging in and creating exciting virtual lessons.

“We’ve learned a lot about how to engage students online and create expectations for them so they know that this is still school – it just looks a little bit different,” Marrs Magnet Center Principal Angelique Gunderson said. “With how much we all miss our children, to be able to see their faces has been a delight.”

Even though the unique challenges of this time, the initiative has opened new opportunities for students and families as educational partners.

“I think a unique byproduct from all of this is that we have a lot of families who are new to our country learning right along with their kids,” Kennedy Elementary Principal Tony Gunter said. “They’re engaged in their lessons with students. They’re interested in what the kids are learning and they’re learning right alongside them.”

While students are relying on iPads to connect with their teachers during virtual learning, they will continue to use them as educational tools when they return to their school buildings.

“I think that for the future there will always be a hybrid of using technology no matter what career they choose and wherever they happen to go in life – it’s part of their daily world,” Gunderson said. “The foresight to get 54,000 devices out to students is outstanding and we’re very, very thankful that our leadership has done this for us, and our kids are too.”

5 Ways to Improve iPad Performance

iPad with low battery warning

Technology is a great tool for learning at home or in-person, and while hiccups happen, there are little tweaks you can make to help stay connected in class. Discover our quick and easy tips to keep your iPad running smoothly.

Take Charge 
Plug the iPad in overnight to charge and during breaks throughout the day so you’re always able to be connected.

Work on WiFi
If you have access to a WiFi network, turn off Cellular Data (LTE internet access) while the iPad is connected to WiFi. This helps preserve battery life while speeding up downloads and improving streaming.

Be Mindful of Videos
iPad batteries drain faster while streaming video. If you’re low on power, keep unnecessary streaming to a minimum until you can charge back up.

Dial Back the Brightness
The brighter the screen, the quicker the battery drains. Use the Control Center or Settings app to turn down your brightness to preserve power. 

Tidy Up
Just like a physical work space, iPads work more efficiently when things are orderly. Close out unused tabs in Safari and clear your cache and cookies to improve performance. 

Still feeling sluggish? Restart your iPad first, then contact your teacher or school for additional technical support if needed.

Investing in Staff Cultivates New Educators

Summer Hospodka teaches kindergarten virtually from her classroom

Summer Hospodka has supported students in Omaha Public Schools’ classrooms for nearly three years, but the 2020-21 school year brings an exciting new chapter as a teacher. The Chandler View Elementary kindergarten educator credits the Para to Teacher Career Ladder Program for getting her there.

Hospodka first learned of the program from Principal Elizabeth Holland at Pawnee Elementary when she interviewed to become a paraprofessional. She had already earned a scholarship to another college, but what she heard about the Para to Teacher program prompted her to reconsider her future.

“Everyone spoke so highly of it, so I decided to … apply for the para to educator program and cross my fingers and toes and hope that I got in,” Hospodka said.   

Omaha Public Schools and area universities created the accelerated program to help district paraprofessionals earn a K-8 endorsement and start a teaching career. The district covers the cost for paras who work in district schools and continue their employment for at least three years after graduation. Flexible class times allow aspiring teachers to balance home, work and school.

For Hospodka, the courses she took through Midland University helped build on the skills she learned as a para. 

“Classroom management is a huge one,” she said. “As a para, you do some things, but learning through the courses at Midland just how to set up your classroom and do the behind the scenes type things that maybe as a para you don’t get to see. Having that helped bring it all full circle.”

Hospodka’s class of 20 varied in age and experience and included attendees from across the district. Having a diverse group helped enhance skills they had already learned working as paras in the classroom. 

“You could bounce so many different ideas off of other people through different buildings and different grades, so you were always learning and collaborating,” she said. “If you were at a traditional school and not working as a para, just going to school, you don’t have the same experiences.” 

Though Hospodka had plenty of classroom experience, the program helped her become more confident stepping into a new role. 

“The nice thing is I have my para school, I have my student teaching school … and now, having a new school that I’m working at, I have so many avenues and resources to get help,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things about the para to teacher program. You just have so much help and people rooting for you. That’s a huge plus.”

Hospodka encourages others in the district to follow her path. After completing the program, graduates are eligible for a Nebraska teaching certificate and program graduates who work in Omaha Public Schools are guaranteed an interview for a classroom position.

“Don’t let age be a factor – it’s never too late to chase your dreams,” she said. “We had a variety from 21 years old all the way up to 60 years old in our program. If you want to be a teacher, if you have that passion for kids, just do it. Take that chance. Take that leap because being able to collaborate with other paras and then have your dream job is pretty amazing.”

Applications will open later this semester. District paraprofessionals interested in the program can reach out to LaTasha Muhammad, Staff Development Coordinator at latasha.muhammad@ops.org for more information.