Helping Stuyvesant Restart During the Pandemic
In August 2020, Stuyvesant’s administration and faculty were dealing with an unprecedented set of challenges for the start of the 2020-21 School Year with its new model of remote instruction.
When schools first closed in March, many teachers transitioned to remote learning with asynchronous instruction, which is self-paced learning without real time instruction. Teachers would provide assignments, pre-record their lectures, or post their lecture notes online and the students could review them anytime before a deadline. When Stuyvesant re-opened in the fall, students could choose between either full-time remote learning or a blended learning model where students spent time both in the school building and at home. However, this new model meant all lessons must be taught by the teacher in real-time live instruction over Zoom or Google Meets.
While synchronous instruction made for a more engaging learning experience, it also posed certain resource challenges. Under this new schedule, students attended virtual live instruction from 9:10AM – 2:25PM, which meant that all 3,300+ Stuyvesant students required a device with internet connectivity during that timeslot every day. However, about 40% of Stuyvesant’s students come from families who are at or below the poverty line. Some students were sharing one computer with parents and siblings who also needed to use that device for a large portion of their day.
“A lot of these students were using their phones to stream their virtual classrooms. Initially the DOE was going to offer iPads for students who requested assistance with additional devices,” said Dr. Gary Haber, Stuyvesant’s Assistant Principal of Organization. “But that wasn’t an ideal option since iPads also have limited capabilities and they are difficult to type on since they don’t come with keyboards. So we really wanted to purchase Chromebooks or laptops to lend out to the students who would need it for the school year.”
Besides the device shortages for students, Dr. Haber realized there was another problem. “Initially based on student surveys, we were estimating that there might be a maximum of 300+ people (200+ students, 100+ faculty) coming into the school for blended learning on a given day. And while that is not even 10% of our student and faculty body pre-COVID, every one of these 300+ people will now need a lot of internet speed to stream Zoom/Google Meets for classes. The building was not equipped for that amount of data usage.”
Even though Dr. Haber was able to upgrade Stuyvesant’s data plan and double the speed of WiFi before the start of in-person instruction in October, he was worried about a worst-case scenario where too many people would overload the bandwidth and the teachers wouldn’t be able to stream their classes. “If the connection in our building goes down, it’s not just going to be the 300+ people in the building who are affected. If the 100+ teachers here cannot access Zoom to teach their class, every single student in their class regardless of whether they’re in school or at home will suffer disruption in their learning. That’s thousands of Stuyvesant students.”
Dr. Haber came up with a contingency plan of buying dozens of MiFi devices, which would provide teachers with a separate source of internet connection should the building’s connection ever slow down or stop working. The problem was the MiFi devices and the associated data plan, the hundreds of laptops/Chromebooks requested by in-need students, and other resources needed for this new form of learning easily added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Our total budget for the school year [had] been cut while a lot of our fixed cost [had] increased. At the same time, there [was] more need for all these technology expenses that we never had before. To even get a fraction of the devices we needed, we would have to drastically divert expenses away from school funds we usually set aside for student activities like Speech & Debate, Math Team, Model UN.”
Our total budget for the school year has been cut while a lot of our fixed cost has increased. At the same time, there is more need for all these technology expenses that we never had before. To even get a fraction of the devices we needed, we would have to drastically divert expenses away from school funds we usually set aside for student activities like Speech & Debate, Math Team, Model UN.
Principal Yu and Dr. Haber reached out to the Alumni Association to see if there was anything we could do to help cover some of the budget shortfall so that all students could have the resources needed for remote learning without sacrificing some of Stuyvesant’s most notable extracurriculars in the process. Around the same time, alumnus Vishal Garg ’95 was witnessing first-hand through his children’s school experience the difficulties of public school re-opening. He reached out to the Alumni Association to ask what he could do to help.
After a call with Principal Yu to discuss what the school would need, Mr. Garg and his company, Better.com, wrote a $90K check to the Alumni Association directed toward helping Stuyvesant prepare for remote instruction and blended learning in this new school year. With those funds, the Alumni Association was able to procure for all the laptops, Chromebooks, and MiFi devices requested by the school and so much more!
“We are so grateful to the Alumni Association and Mr. Garg. With their help, we have been able to minimize disruption to teachers’ instruction and help so many students who lack the resources needed for this new mode of learning. Thank you again!”
With help from Vishal Garg and Better.com, the Alumni Association has been able to help Stuyvesant:
- Purchase 101 Chromebooks and 50 laptops for students who needed assistance with additional devices
- Procure 45 MiFi devices and associated data plans to provide backup connectivity for the school and for students who do not have sufficient internet connection at home
- Provide social-emotional coaching program for 830 freshmen to help them adjust to the challenges of starting Stuyvesant in the new COVID era
- Pay for software upgrades that allow teachers to easily take attendance electronically and relieve a huge bureaucratic burden that has been eating into instruction time
- Supply 25 battery power stations for students to charge their laptops at school for in-person instruction
- Most importantly, free up school funding for necessary faculty supervision of vital Stuyvesant extracurriculars like Math Team, Speech & Debate, Model UN, etc.