standing Chariho High School

Chariho High School. Sun file photo

WOOD RIVER JCT. — The Chariho Regional School District has been awarded a $55,000 “Take it Outside” grant from Rhode Island Commerce. 

The grants are part of the effort by the state to encourage businesses, chambers of commerce and organizations to move activities outdoors to lessen the spread of COVID-19. 

Chariho Development Officer Katie Kirakosian said most of the funds will be allocated to adding outdoor WiFi to the district’s campuses so students can use their laptop computers in outdoor classes.

“One of the largest areas they’ll be utilizing these funds for is to get a series of WiFi access points at all of the schools, so there would be outdoor WiFi for students and staff,” she said. 

WiFi will also be available in school parking lots.

“If there’s a situation where someone cannot access the building but needs to go in a parking lot, for example, to access high-quality WiFi, then they would be able to,” Kirakosian said.

Statewide, there have been two rounds of awards so far, totaling $6.1 million. Rhode Island Commerce spokesman Brian Hodge said the grants were made to school districts, rather than individual schools.

“We awarded them to school districts or organizations that were helping a number of schools,” he said. “… This effort is not just targeted for restaurants and retail operations.”

Some of the state funds will be used to put together mobile outdoor classroom kits, or “MOCKs,” that will contain everything teachers need to hold a class outside.

“A teacher could bring a laptop and all their materials that they might need, yoga mats for younger students, so they can sit on the ground in weather that they might not have been inspired to go outside …. We’re trying to make outdoor learning as comfortable as possible for all the schools with more sizable, collapsible chairs for middle [and] high school students. It’s like a big box on wheels, and it turns into a chair for the teacher,” Kirakosian explained.

The district will also create more permanent outdoor classrooms on the main Chariho campus by adding metal benches. Richmond Elementary School will also receive additional outdoor learning materials for the school's courtyard space. The terms of the grant require that purchases and installations be made by the end of December.

Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said that principals had urged the district to enhance outdoor learning facilities.

“Over the summer, the principals really advocated for ways to be thinking about the outdoor classrooms, and WiFi was one of the things that kept being brought up,” she said. “Not that we want children in front of screens all day, but it allowed us the opportunity to stream, let’s say, for our distance learners who could not be in school, activities that were taking place. Sometimes, it’s just a nice way to get the kids some fresh air, take their laptops outside when they do have to have screens.”

Education Technology Director Shawn Cole, who is configuring the WiFi access points, is using aerial maps to determine how much coverage is needed. On the main campus, all outdoor learning spaces at the high school and middle school, as well as the four elementary schools, will be covered, allowing students to spread out and maintain safe distances from each other.

Hodge said the Take it Outside funding program had generated considerable interest.

“We received a ton of applications, so we’re proud and excited for all the businesses and organizations who have thought so creatively and worked so hard on the applications, and we hope that the money is beneficial as they work to take it outside,” he said.

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