SWEETWATER COUNTY — With the support of the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation, Sweetwater Head Start is implementing iPad minis this school year to help keep students and families connected.
The iPads are being put into the classrooms and will be available for students to take home thanks to a $10,000 Education and STEM grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation provided more than $130,000 in grants to 21 organizations in Wyoming, including Head Start.
Amid the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the iPads will help immensely with keeping families connected to the classroom in the event of quarantines.
“COVID, as with the rest of the world, caused havoc for us. Our team had to get together and figure out how we can still offer these services to families. So it was kind of a blessing that we could move forward with technology,” Lisa DeBernardi, Director of Sweetwater Head Start, said.
However, DeBernardi added that the iPads will not only help throughout the pandemic, but will serve many purposes, including eliminating snow days.
“The iPads not only bring us into those families’ houses during COVID, but it is also an opportunity for us moving forward,” she said.
Tiffany Erickson, spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power, said the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation gives money to “community-serving organizations” in four cycles.
“This latest one was the education grant cycle. So we encourage and invite these great organizations to apply for grants and allow us to assist them in their functions of serving the community, and particularly here, providing these awesome hands-on learning experiences for kids,” Erickson said.
Erin Barbuto, Head Start Family and Community Partnership Manager, said that Ron Wild, Rocky Mountain Power Regional Business Manager, responded to Head Start with a strong desire to not just partner but really engage with Head Start and its families.
“We call him Head Start’s guardian angel,” Barbuto said.
More About Head Start
Head Start, though part of Sweetwater County School District No. 1, is a federally funded free preschool that serves 100 students in the county, DeBernardi said. Beyond offering education, the program also offers family services to help support the entire household.
“It’s a free preschool to categorically eligible families, meaning families who are low income, trauma-based, and students with disabilities,” DeBernardi said. “We’re a big intervention piece from preschool to kindergarten. So these kids are getting ready to get into kindergarten through 12th grade.”
Barbuto emphasized the family services side of the program, which helps support families to lead to the children’s success.
“It’s a program for the whole family, and we focus on health, nutrition, and supporting parents and their needs, interests, and goals,” Barbuto said.
Erickson explained that one of the reasons Head Start stood out to Rocky Mountain Power was because the organization has such a strong impact on the community. Not only does Head Start provide quality child care, Erickson said, but they also provide these other services for the families.
“The impact that Head Start has, it’s a really strong impact, and we wanted to be part of that. We wanted to help move along that mission and improve things in the community,” Erickson said.
Barbuto said Head Start looks for communities with strong community support to place their programs in, so grants such as this one show that the community is willing to invest in Head Start.
“We’re so grateful for the community support, and we continue to need that,” Barbuto said. “We need people to talk about Head Start, to support the families, and we need good substitutes, we need volunteers, we need good staff,” she said.
The strength of the community strengthens Head Start.~ Erin Barbuto, Head Start Family & Community Partnership Manager
According to DeBernardi, the teachers at Head Start have started implementing the iPads into the lesson plans so students know how to work the devices in the event they need to connect virtually from home.
Last year, parent-teacher conferences were conducted virtually, and this year some of the parent trainings are being offered online.
“It’s looking at how we can offer services in a new way,” DeBernardi said.
Barbuto said the students and families are really excited about the iPads and have already started asking if they can connect their kids virtually when the families are out of town or the kids need to stay home while sick.
Though Barbuto said they are not quite at the point where they can start sending the iPads home, “we have options now.” She added that connection is immensely important for kids to keep relationships flourishing, and this new technology will ensure no one feels left out.
“When a child has to be in quarantine or can’t be in school, it’s really easy to feel disconnected, and you are disconnected,” Barbuto said. “So the iPads are a great way, not only to continue the education of the child, but to make sure that the relationships are intact. Having the options to continue education, services, connection and relationships is really critical and is meaningful for both sides of that relationship.”