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Keeping students connected and fed

As schools switched from in-person to online instruction this past spring, districts faced the challenge of making sure all students had access to needed technology and the internet.

According to the U.S. Census, about 16 percent of the population in Kent County has no internet access and about 9 percent does not have computers. Those are facts the Kent District Library staff is aware of as it works to meet patrons’ needs.

So even though its branches were closed due to the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, KDL, a School News Network partner, sprang into action to make sure school leaders and families were aware of all the technology and internet options KDL had available.

“One of the concerns that especially comes up during the summer break  is the loss of learning over an extended period of time,” said KDL Programming Specialist Carlita Gonzalez. In fact, according to the Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA, a research based non-profit that creates assessments for pre-K to 12th grade students, a third grade student could lose nearly 20 percent of his/her school year gains in reading with an eighth grader losing on average 36 percent. Those losses increase with math. 

“It is really important for students to have access to the materials,” Gonzalez said.

To help area students, KDL had wifi hotspots available and ordered an additional 700, said KDL Director of Library Services Carrie Wilson. This brings the total number of hotspots available from KDL to 833. The hotspots are part of the Beyond Books Collection and are available to library cardholders age 18 and older. Some of the hotspots also were given to KDL staff with local school connections to distribute as needed.

“So for those school systems not relying 100% on paper/pencil, we are ready to help with anyone needing internet access,” said KDL IT Director Kurt Stevens. “We want to make sure teachers, students, and Kent County residents are aware that KDL has the capability to provide hotspots to those in need.”

Children can read and eat for free through KDL

Kent District Library is partnering with Feeding America to present Meet Up and Eat Up, a summer food program at 12 KDL locations. Anyone 18 years old and younger can come enjoy a free lunch.

“Feeding the minds, imaginations and spirits is something that we have always done at KDL, but through this program we are literally feeding hungry people,” said Lance Werner, executive director of KDL, in a press release.

Participants  can pick up their lunch and Summer Wonder reading materials at the library to take home to eat while reading on days listed through Aug 14 unless otherwise noted.. Please follow the physical/social distancing guidelines posted at each pick up location.

Alpine Township, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. weekdays
Comstock Park, noon – 12:30 p.m. weekdays
Gaines Township, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. weekdays
Kelloggsville, noon – 1 p.m.  weekdays 
Kentwood, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. weekdays 
Nelson Twp., 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays 
Plainfield Twp., 11:15 a.m. – noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Spencer Township, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. weekdays 
Tyrone Township, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Mondays – Thursdays, through Aug. 13
Walker, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. weekdays
Wyoming, 1 – 2 p.m. weekdays
Bookmobile, various dates and locations

Kent District Library is a proud sponsor of SNN, and provides these book talks for our readers

Wilson said about 24,000 households in Kent county are without broadband. “We really focused on the underserved areas,” Wilson said, adding this included rural areas, where internet access can be limited.

“Also what many people do know is that the WiFi at all the branches is open meaning you do not need a library card to access it,” Gonzalez said. “Residents in need of wifi can currently sit in a KDL branch parking to get service and access materials.”

KDL Collections Services Megan Versluis works on processing one of the 700 internet hotspots that KDL purchased to help keep students and families connected to the schools (Courtesy

Hotspots will be mailed to households while KDL branches are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. When KDL opens, hotspots will be able to be picked up at the branches. People who live in the KDL service area and do not have a library card can register for one online at kdl.org/virtual or by calling 616-784-2007.

Due to COVID-19, KDL shifted a number of activities and resources online including story times, STEAM programs, book clubs and homework help. Also available online is the Mission Read, a collaboration between KDL, Grand Rapids Public Library, Cedar Springs Public Library, Sparta Carnegie Township Library, Literacy Center of West Michigan and Kent ISD. This program helps families meet third grade reading requirements by fostering a love for reading. Many of these online resources can be found at kdl.org/virtual

Alina Celeste and Mi Amigo Hamlet will present bilingual music as part of the KDL summer program (Courtesy)

Wilson said  KDL also has worked with area teachers to add materials to its remote access platforms such as OverDrive, where KDL’s eBooks and eAudiobooks are housed. OverDrive also offers SORA, an online reading app for students and teachers. KDL created a new resource page for teachers at kdl.org/learning.

KDL provides reading support through its Summer Wonder reading program, which Gonzalez noted that due to social distancing guidelines, has been moved online along with all of KDL’s summer program options. The Summer Wonder program, which kicked off in the beginning of June, has a strong focus on STEAM-based learning with special categories for babies, pre-school, youth, teens, and adults. 

KDL is set to offer curbside service starting June 15 with the branches set to reopen with limited services July 6. To check out a hotspot, visit kdl.org and search on the term “mobile hotspot.” 

The KDL staff recorded more than 74,000 bid records and 262,000 items including about 700 new wireless hotspots (Courtesy)
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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio or email Joanne.


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