By Tammy Sharp

February 28, 2022

LEESVILLE, LA–The Vernon Parish School District has been quick on the draw when it comes to taking advantage of funding made available to help school districts tackle issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the end, the district has secured enough funding to provide state of the art technology and connectivity not just to every classroom and school, but to every student and teacher in the district. 

In March 2021, a third pandemic stimulus bill dubbed the American Rescue Plan was signed into law, providing public school districts across the country $122 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (or ESSER III) funds. 

The School Board decided to perform a major upgrade to Classroom Teaching technology using its ESSERF3 funding, according to Bill Lohman, technology administrator for the Vernon Parish School Board.   

“Activboards and Projectors are being replaced in 500 classrooms and 550 classrooms will receive a Hovercam Pilot X,” Lohman said. “We were also able to purchase 300 new laser jet printers to replace old outdated printers in the classroom.”

Courtesy photo North Polk Principal Brandy Sanders and VPSB IT tech Kelby Geroge move one of the new 75″ interactive panels into the school. Every classroom in the Vernon Parish school district will be getting one of these, soon.

The 75-inch Newline RS750 panels will bring the classroom display technology into a new age. They are an ultra-hi definition LED multi-touch display with twenty points of touch and built-in android operating system. 

“Multimedia, interactive lessons, and student engagement in the classroom should be at an all time best,” said Lohman.

Teachers can roll their Hovercam Pilot anywhere in the classroom and teach or remove the tablet and walk anywhere in the classroom and it will still transmit, wirelessly, to the interactive panel.

The Hovercam Pilot-X is a self-contained teacher station which consists of a podium, touchscreen Windows 11 tablet, built-in document camera, and wireless image and sound to the new panels.  Teachers can roll their Hovercam Pilot anywhere in the classroom and teach or remove the tablet and walk anywhere in the classroom and it will still transmit, wirelessly, to the interactive panel. The tablet has a full day battery as well and the podium has an additional battery for more time unplugged.

“These two additions to our classrooms will help our teachers innovate and bring teaching and learning to new heights,” said Lohman.“The district has invested substantially to address the needs of our students as 21st century learners.” 

The Federal Communication Commissions (FCC) ‘s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a $7.17 billion program that will help schools and libraries provide the tools and services their communities need for remote learning during the COVID-19 emergency period.

The Vernon Parish School District used ECF funds from the FCC to purchase teacher chromebooks to perform classroom planning at home. These chromebooks, along with the district’s 3-year 1:1 project, give each teacher and student a device for use whether at home or at school. 

“The district can now provide instruction through pandemics, hurricanes, or ice storms,” said Lohman.

“All of this technology is great, but, without connectivity, there are difficulties,” he added. “Vernon Parish has been traditionally ignored by the telecom giants when it comes to connectivity to the home, businesses, and schools.” 

However, the Vernon Parish School Board recently awarded a proposal to rebuild its Wide Area Network (WAN) to schools. 

“This network will be a diverse ring design which increases bandwidth, uptime, and speeds to each school while saving us money in the long term,” said Lohman. 

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is another FCC program designed to close the digital divide in the United States by investing billions of dollars in the construction of rural broadband networks.

A Louisiana program, Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO), also aims to help applicants facilitate the deployment of broadband service to unserved areas of the state.

The Vernon Parish District will use the new WAN proposal, along with RDOF funding by the FCC, and GUMBO funding from the state to bring Vernon Parish light years ahead of its current connectivity, said Lohman.