LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Lafayette Parish School System employees are fielding calls from students about how to log in to virtual learning, change their passwords and other technical issue that come up as they cope with remote instruction during COVID-19.
At least 30 teachers, librarians and technology staff serve as technical facilitators at the central office and schools across the district to answer the questions, with each school donating at least six hours a week, said Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Gardner.
This allows for four employees at one time to be on hand to answer families’ “requests for help” submitted online or by calling the Link & Learn technology help desk.
During the first week of school, a four-day week due to Labor Day, the help desk fielded nearly 1,000 requests, and 95% have been solved, said Ryan Domengeaux, CEO of the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation.
The foundation has been a major part of the Love Our Schools initiative, which partnered with the school system to create the help desk.
Love Our Schools, a program that began last school year with on-campus beautification projects and school staff meals, connects businesses and community leaders with schools that need support.
Through its Link and Learn partnership with the school system, the group tackled the digital divide that students can experience. In April, Lafayette Parish reported to the state Department of Education that about 20% of its students do not have access to internet at home.
That is always a problem, but even more so as most students have at least some digital component to learning this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether through the all-virtual Lafayette Online Academy or the district’s hybrid instruction model that alternates days for students learning at home and on campus.
“What happens when these families need help?” Domengeaux said. “What happens when 32,000 kids and their families decide they don’t know how to use Zoom, or don’t know what EdGenuity is, or can’t access the internet?”
The response to that has been to wire school buses to be internet hotspots parked in school lots for families to access during their learning-from-home days and using “extenders” to push wifi out from the school buildings in the evenings when buses aren’t there. Plus, there’s a partnership with local internet providers to offer low-cost service, Domengeaux said.
“With Lafayette Online Academy and (grades) 6-12 doing hybrid, this was critical to continue to close the educational gap and not widen it and also close the digital divide,” Gardner said. “This allows us to do that.”
The technology help desk was the next piece of that puzzle, which will be a “tool that will live not only through the pandemic but as long as the school system is open,” Domengeaux said.
The help desk is based in the cloud and can be accessed from any device with data service or internet. It can be accessed online 24/7 at HelpDesk.LPSSonline.com, or families can call 337-273-0755 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. to speak directly to a representative.
“This is something we’ve needed for a while,” said Lindsey Keely, supervisor of technology for the school system.
The pandemic made it that much more critical, she said.
“It’s going to be great for families,” said Keely, who helps field calls and “tickets” for service requested by students. “It gives them a number to call and keeps us all connected. They don’t have to feel like they’re in a silo. We’re all in this together.”
The help desk has received more than 900 help requests or “tickets” — 142 submitted online and 796 by phone — in the first week of school. About 600 calls came in the first day.
The average wait time for callers was 2:14 minutes, and average call length was about 5 minutes, Domengeaux said.
It is supported by in-kind donations from partners like CGI, with money approved by the school board over the summer and by school system employees manning the lines, Gardner said.
“We wanted our teachers, our librarians, our facilitators supporting our students, because they’re ours,” Gardner said. “We’re not just handing it over to a call center.”
Informational technology consulting company CGI did not create the software that makes the held desk possible, but it helped the district find the right technology that would meet the needs of students and families, CGI Vice President Will LaBar explained.
Then LaBar and his team configured the software, which comes from Freshworks, to work best for the school system, and they trained 30 technology “agents” over the summer.
“There are a lot of capabilities on the agent side that allow them to help families very efficiently,” LaBar said. “There are a lot of great people on the other side of the screen to help you.”
CGI’s work was donated as part of the company’s corporate-social responsibility, LaBar said.
“We recognize the importance of a really strong school system to building a strong workforce for us and for others in the community,” he said.