Baboquivari Tech Squad Makes and Impact
There are many components to digital equity that go beyond affordable and reliable access to broadband internet. One of the most critical needs is supporting students, families, and caregivers in navigating the new landscape of online learning and increasing digital literacy. Without the knowledge and confidence to fully engage with the online learning platforms, including the basics of using a laptop and wireless internet, disengagement from online learning is more likely.
In the fall of 2020, supported by funding from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, Cradle to Career facilitated a partnership between Arizona Serve and Baboquivari Unified School District to utilize two AmeriCorps state members to organize the Baboquivari Tech Squad (BTS). This project was developed to address barriers to successful remote schooling as teachers and students pivoted to online learning. BTS focused on providing individualized and consistent outreach to students and families, offering technical support through targeting students with the highest risk for falling behind. They also created an online support system for students and families to request help with a wide variety of technical issues.
As students fully transitioned to online learning, participation in the district’s online intervention program, Successmaker, was low and students were at risk for falling behind. BTS members began reaching out and meeting with families virtually to help them with the logging in process. Members were consistent in their outreach efforts, often checking in daily with students and caregivers to ensure they were logging in and addressing any technical problems. Their outreach efforts increased participation in Successmaker by 150% from 73 to 181 students. This increase in activity has directly impacted student achievement in reading and mathematics. By April 2021, 103 students caught up by at least a month in reading and 89 students caught up by at least a month in math.
This transition also meant that students and caregivers were interacting with online platforms that they did not have much familiarity with previously, and because of this they encountered several technical issues that inhibited students’ ability to access educational websites, communicate with teachers, join virtual meetings, and submit work. To provide support efficiently and quickly, BTS created an online request form using Google Forms allowing students, caregivers, and teachers to easily submit a request for help, including a description of the issue, contact info, best time to reach out, and preferred method of communication. As requests were submitted, BTS members diagnosed the problem and walked students and caregivers through troubleshooting. If they were unable to address the issue, they passed it along to technical support. This allowed problems to be triaged and increased the capacity of district technical support staff.
The successes of BTS throughout the school year illustrated the importance of consistent outreach and follow-up to ensure students’ engagement throughout remote learning, especially as students and families become familiar with new technology and online platforms. Familiarity with technology varied by household, with some needing assistance with the basics of using laptops and accessing email. By working with students and other members of their households, BTS was able to ensure maximum support for students.