MAYOR of Derry City and Strabane District, Brian Tierney, has been out and about visiting four local schools who have just received a batch of new IT equipment to assist local families overcome the challenges of home schooling.
The Mayor received a warm welcome at Holy Cross College in Strabane, Strabane Academy, Castlederg High School and St Patrick's and St Brigid's in Claudy where a total of 208 devices were distributed.
The equipment has been funded through Derry City and Strabane District Council's Covid19 Community Support Programme (CSP), which has delivered extensive support to local communities in recent months funded by the Department for Communities (DfC).
In January £270,000 was allocated in a third tranche of funding for the delivery of a dedicated Connectivity Programme for post-primary schools, with a separate allocation of £24,000 to address rural connectivity problems specifically in the Derg and Sperrin areas.
Speaking after the visits, Mayor Tierney said the new resources would greatly assist both teachers and pupils.
"It has been a real challenge for schools to stay connected with students during the pandemic, particularly those living in rural areas where connectivity remains an issue with poor access to broadband in many areas," he said.
"The new devices will assist teachers and families who don't have access to the necessary devices to properly deliver blended learning.
"We have a long way to go before we see the end of this health crisis and I hope this equipment goes some way to assisting schools and families when the need arises."
The programme is being delivered in partnership with Local Community Growth Partnerships who have been working closely with local schools in their areas to ascertain need and target distribution.
Through the scheme Holy Cross College received 129 HP Chromebooks, while Strabane Academy received 14 Microsoft Go Laptops. Castlederg High School also received 27 HP Chromebooks and St Patrick's and St Brigid's received 38 HP Chromebooks.
Chair of the Strabane Local Community Growth Partnership Aodhán Harkin, who worked with the schools in Strabane to deliver the scheme, said: "As chairperson of the Partnership, I was delighted to be in attendance alongside Wendy McGlinchey and the Mayor at the handover of this essential equipment to Strabane Academy and Holy Cross College.
"It will make a such a difference to both parents and teachers trying to meet the educational needs of students learning from home."
Philip O'Kane is manager of rural support organisation RAPID, who have been assisting schools in rural areas with the scheme.
He added: "I am delighted to see the roll out of this equipment. We are all aware of the poor connectivity that makes home schooling an even bigger challenges for families living in rural areas.
"This will really help alleviate the pressure on schools trying to deliver blended learning."
Claire Bradley, Holy Cross College, said: "As a school we have struggled to secure devices during the pandemic to cater for all our students' needs and this exceptional funding through 'The Connect Programme' will benefit our students immensely.
"These devices will be a real asset to the children of our school and the wider community."