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A GROWING HOMEWORK GAP

Beaufort_Library_Case_Study

Photo  Courtesy of Beaufort County Library Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beaufortcountylibrary  

Beaufort County middle schools in South Carolina issued all of their students a laptop. However, in some areas of the county, students had difficultly using the laptops for homework because they didn’t have Internet at home.

Since the local library provides public Wi-Fi, some students would venture to the library for Internet access, even after library hours. That is when Beaufort County Library saw the direct impact of the Homework Gap.

“Students were in our [library] parking lot using our Wi-Fi, sometimes until midnight doing homework. We saw a need. This was our project to address that need.”

Ray McBride, Library Director, Beaufort County Library

ADDRESSING THE NEED THROUGH A PILOT 

In the first year of their Kajeet SmartSpot® program, Beaufort County Library began a six-month pilot using funds from the county library budget. They partnered with Beaufort County School District to identify students in need of Internet at home, and then the library managed the checkout and training process.

Initially, this pilot program provided 10 students a Kajeet SmartSpot device for a one-month-loan period. Students were chosen based on an application and recommendations from the school district.

In order to borrow a Kajeet SmartSpot, the following criteria had to be met:

  • Must be a Beaufort County public school student in grade 6-12.
  • Must attend school in Beaufort County.
  • Must reside in a household without broadband Internet access.
  • Possess a Beaufort County Library card in good standing (less than $10 in fines).
  • Agree to participate in surveys and other outcome-based evaluations.

McBride said the library pilot was a huge success and received positive feedback from the students. After the initial year, Beaufort Library added 40 more SmartSpot devices for students in their county.
PIVOTING FROM PILOT TO PROGRAM

At the start of their third year of this Kajeet program, Beaufort Library moved from issuing devices to individual students, to implementing a library check-out model where anyone (within the program parameters) could borrow the devices. Kajeet SmartSpot devices were distributed to three of the five library branches—the areas with the highest need—and then students began checking out the devices for an entire school year.

When discussing moving to the library check-out model, Traci Cox, information services librarian, Beaufort County Library, said, “I think that’s why this third year has been so successful.” Traci also manages the Kajeet program including the SmartSpot devices and the reporting and analytics tool in the Kajeet Sentinel® cloud platform

Previously, teachers identified students that needed Wi-Fi at home, but then it was up to the student to take action and checkout the device. Now, parents come in with their student to check out devices. “When a parent comes in on his/her own accord, we’ve seen the highest device usage,” said Cox.

Checking out devices is just like checking out any other library material. If a student is not using the device often, they tend to return the device and another family is able to connect at home.

And this library system has seen a 100 percent return rate of the devices. Students receive the normal courtesy notice of the device due date since it is tied to their existing library account.

“We’re all about less staff overhead; Kajeet makes it pretty easy.”

Ray McBride, Library Director, Beaufort County Library

PROMOTING THE PROGRAM

Once a school or library receives the hotspots, it can be difficult to get the word out. But that wasn’t the case for Beaufort and the communities they serve. “The branch librarians know their communities very well,” said Cox.

Here are just a few ways Beaufort promotes their Kajeet program:

  • Thousands of Friends of the Library (an all-volunteer group who supports Beaufort libraries).
  • Social media.
  • Library email list.
  • Library website page.
  • Promotional posters at the branches.
  • Attending local organizations’ meetings.
  • Word of mouth by library staff.

Through all of this effort, Beaufort Library quickly checked out all of their 50 devices with a waiting list of additional families.

Beaufort also emphasizes the sole purpose of these devices is for student educational use. When a parent comes in to check out the device, the librarians reiterate the filtering included on the hotspots. The Kajeet
SmartSpot devices provide CIPA-compliant filters, allowing education-only sites. Once students know about the filtering, they can focus on schoolwork instead of attempting to use the hotspot for entertainment.

Students receive a sheet of paper with general information about the device, and contact information should they have any questions. By providing this basic information, the librarians rarely receive many questions on the hotspots.

TIPS FOR OTHER LIBRARIES

Beaufort County Library is taking matters into their own hands. They saw a need once the school issued laptops for students to take home, and they’re not the only library to do so. Beaufort has shared their model and documentation of this process nationwide. Documentation includes their initial pilot project plan and the survey results they received from their first year.

As an experienced Kajeet user, Cox notes:

“The Kajeet devices just work. No major troubleshooting problems to address and I haven’t heard from any of the branch managers of technical problems. So far, so good.”

Traci Cox, Information Services Librarian, Beaufort County Library

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