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Urban and Rural Schools Provide Devices, Internet Access to Students

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Springfield Public Schools
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Due to public closures from the COVID-19 outbreak, Oregon K-12 schools will begin remote learning on April 13th. Urban and rural school districts are providing devices and internet access to help families with the transition.

Beginning last week, urban school districts like Eugene 4J and Springfield started delivering Chromebooks so students can begin remote learning. For their first round of deliveries, Springfield provided about 500 devices to high school students. Now, Springfield’s Community Engagement Officer, Jenna McCulley, says they’re providing devices for second through 12th graders.

“This week we're going to be reaching out to folks again and doing the next round,” said McCulley. “I think that we have in this initial first swath of families, they were estimating about 1,700 to close to 2,000 devices that they'll be delivering.”

McCulley says these devices are already owned by the district. 

By the end of this week, they will provide electronics for the first round of K-12 students who have requested support. Like other urban districts, Springfield has also ordered more than 500 hotspots for families who can’t afford internet access.

“We are trying to support those that have the greatest need right now,” said McCulley. “So if we have families that are able to work through Comcast and get access to their program, then we would encourage them to do that. We have a finite resource immediately for hotspots, but we're problem solving.”

But school districts in rural areas may have a more difficult time transitioning to remote learning. Although Comcast is providing two months of free internet service for qualifying families, the internet provider doesn’t reach all rural communities.

Mike Garling is the coordinator of the Rural School Network, which provides supplemental services to districts. After speaking to multiple superintendents, Garling says roughly 20-25% of rural students in Oregon don’t have internet access. 

“So you could give them a Chromebook, but without any connectivity, it's of no use,” said Garling. 

School districts have received guidelines from the Oregon Department of Education, but Garling says ODE is not providing provisions to supply internet, hotspots, or devices. So, some areas—like the Marcola School District—have gotten creative.

“They’re parking school buses with remote hotspots in them in different parts of their community so people could access that,” said Garling. 

Many school districts are providing paper packets for students who could inevitably fall through the cracks and not receive internet access or devices. But Garling says packets aren’t enough to continue their education.

“Which is fine for what we would call, busy work just to keep kids engaged,” said Garling. “But it's not actually going to advance a lot of learning. It's going to be a lot of practice work on things you already know how to do because you really can't give students things that they haven't been taught to do and then expect parents to be able to help them. It’s just not realistic.”

Garling says paper packets are better than nothing. But he says e-learning would be the most beneficial during this time.

“Having some instruction to go along with it by somebody who understands the material—and kids have a way to interact and ask questions or get other support—is the ideal,” said Garling. 

Garling hopes companies will provide free satellite services through the end of the school year for areas who don’t have internet. 

Parents are encouraged to complete their school district’s online surveys so staff can determine how to best support families.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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