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One day in June, teacher Lisa Bender handed out iPads to a handful of the students in her financial literacy class at Southern Garrett High School.
Students played an educational game that led them through various financial scenarios, such as buying a car or paying for college. Another program helped students evaluate career options. Rachel Warnick, 17, enjoys fashion and shopping, but after using the program, she settled on physician’s assistant as her goal.
“You might think about, ‘I like to play sports’ or ‘I like to be outside,’ but when you are considering a career you don’t really consider the things you like to do as much as what you need to do,” Warnick said. “With this, it’s more of ‘How smart do you need to be to be a doctor?’ or ‘How tech-savvy do you have to be to be an engineer?’”
Bender had tried to use technology in her classroom before, but she would sign up for a cart of computers and have to wait two weeks for her turn. Frustrated, she applied for and got a grant to buy 60 iPads—30 each for Southern Garrett High School and Northern Garrett High School—to support a new financial literacy program.
The district, which has a budget of about $51 million, has used private and government grants to pay for almost all the technology upgrades. Although a 2010 federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to Maryland paid to bring the high-speed Internet to the school building, it did not pay for the wireless technology installations or updated computers that Garrett County schools needs to make the most of it.
Additional federal and state grants totaling more than $1.2 million were used to update technology inside the buildings. More than $471,600 of that went to infrastructure upgrades, such as Wi-Fi. Technology needed to administer new academic achievement tests, such as computer labs, cost about $391,500. About $278,000 was budgeted to buy computers for teachers. The smallest amount, about $119,200, went to pay for computers dedicated to classroom instruction.
The district planned to spend more on computers and other devices, but recognized that the district did not have internal systems to support full use of new computers, so it prioritized infrastructure over buying more devices. The technology grant money runs out this fall, and district leaders say they don’t yet know how they pay for more classroom technology.
“There are so many competing priorities in places like that with limited funding,” said Lillian M. Lowery, the Maryland state superintendent of schools. “We need to make a case and find partnerships.”
Public school enrollment in Garrett County has been shrinking for years, causing a decline in state aid to the school district. County commissioners have not raised local taxes to fill the gap.
Of the two schools not connected to the new broadband Internet service, Swan Meadow, near the West Virginia border, has only 31 students, and Route 140 Elementary already gets cable Internet service, which district leaders say is speedy enough for its needs. It would cost about $700,000 per building to bring a fiber broadband connection to those two schools.