Updated: May 1
By Jean-Paul Salamanca
To help parents of East End schoolchildren trying to keep up with their studies at home amid the COVID-19 outbreak, OLA of Eastern Long Island recently delivered more than 2,500 laptops and Wi-Fi equipment to local school districts.
Minerva Perez, executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, the Sagaponack-based advocacy group for Latino immigrants on the East End, said the nonprofit donated about $500,000 in computer equipment to 11 school districts on the North and South forks.
“When this whole thing happened with COVID-19, it became clear that remote learning had to be put into place really quickly,” Perez said. “This is going to be a critical thing for all students on the East End.”
After the pandemic forced local schools to close, OLA officials began discussing the needs that districts might face with remote learning. The donations are intended to help all children, not just those of Latino descent, Perez said, noting that school districts would decide how and to whom the computer equipment would be assigned.
School district officials said the donations were a great help at a time when they were trying to educate students who can’t return to school.
David Gamberg, superintendent of the Greenport School District, said the district — which received about 160 Chromebooks — has been trying to keep students from pre-K through 12th grade connected to school staff and each other amid the pandemic, but budget constraints have posed challenges.
“Clearly we want to connect with the families, the parents, the children in any way that we can, so this donation was a tremendous boost to give us that capacity that otherwise we would have been challenged to meet in terms of our budget,” Gamberg said.
Debra Winter, superintendent of the Springs Union Free School District in East Hampton, said the computer devices for her district’s second- and third-grade classes were old, which worried district officials regarding their capacity for use at home. The donation of 150 Chromebooks will enable the district to save money to make Chromebooks available to all students.
“I don’t know what we would have done without that donation,” Winter said. “It was huge, just really huge.”
Dr. Aurelia Henriquez, superintendent of the Riverhead Central School District, said the donation of more than 600 devices to her district will be a big help, especially during what she called “the most challenging times we’ve seen in education.”
“COVID-19 has had a crippling impact on all, but especially on students who struggle,” Henriquez said. “For many of them, school is the only place where they are safe and where they can depend on a consistent schedule. School is where many receive two meals a day and connect with people who care. Connecting with all of our students is essential, but especially in these times of high stress, anxiety and depression.
The donations were made possible via a donation from computer engineer and East End resident Michael Donovan, according to Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA of Eastern Long Island.
Besides Springs, Greenport and Riverhead, other districts receiving Chromebooks:
Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District, 78 Chromebooks;
Hampton Bays School District, 100 Chromebooks;
Bayport-Blue Point School District, 100 Chromebooks;
Eastport-South Manor Central School District, 50 Chromebooks
OLA also donated mobile Wi-Fi devices to school districts for students who don’t have Wi-Fi connectivity at home and are unable to rely on hot spots to connect.
Lars Clemensen, superintendent of the Hampton Bays School District, said the donations would help supplement the 1-to-1 initiative that provides the district’s elementary-level children with their own mobile-computing devices.