Preparing for rural remote learning without internet

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:12 PM EDT
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CLAY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The digital divide between areas with and without reliable internet access became very apparent when schools were forced to close their buildings and create remote education plans at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some counties were able to transition from the classroom to virtual lessons with few problems while others struggled to reach and engage with students.

Clay County Schools provided its students with paper learning packets because internet access is sparse across the rural area. The packets, which were not required to be completed and could only help a student’s grade in a class, were fully completed by about half of students while most attempted to complete parts of them.

To avoid that same problem as the school attempts to adapt a blended learning model where students are in classrooms for part of the week and learning remotely on other days, leadership is working on grants to provide digital devices to all students and creating lessons that can be completed without internet access.

A survey completed by Clay County Schools estimated that between 50 and 60 percent of students in the county do not have adequate internet service and required digital devices at home.

“If the internet goes out, they might not be able to get their school work done on time,” parent Stephany Blake said. “I don’t know how the teachers would do if they were without internet for a week and can’t turn in their assignments on time. It’s just going to affect us pretty hard if their internet goes out.”

Blake said her internet service can be working fine one moment then completely disappear the next. Sometimes she is without service for up to a week. She is also concerned about some students having a leg up on their classmates who do not have internet.

School leaders say they are working to provide paper learning packets to students if there are not enough digital devices to provide to every student.

“That’s going to be a difficult challenge,” parent and business owner Billy Williams said. His internet goes out at least once per day and is forced to create a wireless hot spot to keep the credit card machine running. “That was one of the first things that I was concerned about when they said they could be doing online classes, especially with the internet traffic that all the kids online at one time are going to get. It’s just going to be crazy for everybody.”

Williams said he is lucky to have cell service to create a hot spot when the internet goes down because there are hollows and other rural parts of Clay County that do not have internet access or cell phone coverage.

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