Reaching rural students through remote teaching

Poor broadband access is common throughout rural school districts, making distance learning difficult, but educators are still finding ways to keep students learning
By: | May 13, 2020
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In rural school districts, where poor broadband internet access is a challenge to providing online resources for distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic, administrators and school leaders are striving to find ways to keep students learning.

Idaho has 102 of 116 school districts considered “rural,” as defined by the Idaho Code Section 33-319, meaning that either schools have fewer than 20 enrolled students per square mile, or school districts within a county have fewer than 25,000 residents.

Kristin Rodine, Idaho State Department of Education public information officer, says that methods for continuing learning when physical schools are closed vary in Idaho because of local needs and local board decisions.

“We are not aware of any rural district that hasn’t come up with an approach to meet its needs during the soft school closure,” she said.

Some of the distance learning methods used in Idaho include:
· Online programs
· Facebook Live interactions
· Video class sessions
· Direct check-ins with parents
· Preparation of packets for families to pick up and take home
· Creative in-person interactions with students

“We’ve heard of various teachers who visit a student’s front yard to answer questions and check work at a safe distance, such as through a window or over the phone,” she adds.

In Alaska, like many rural districts across the country, connectivity is the greatest challenge. However, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development indicates the state is able to offer learning opportunities in all locations.

“While it looks different in various parts of Alaska, all students are receiving home-based learning options and opportunities,” says Rochelle Lindley, DEED’s public information officer.

In places where connectivity prohibits bandwidth-heavy tools, Lindley says schools are using paper-based materials, packets and projects to extend the learning to the home. Some rural and remote districts are using public radio and public television to convey information and instructional content.

“In one community, a teacher is using CB radio to do read-alouds for students,” she says. In Alaska, 94 PreK-12 schools are located in the rural fringe, while 149 are considered rural remote.

In areas with no connectivity issues, schools are combining online tools, paper-based materials, and project-based learning, as well as offering videoconference platforms to connect teachers to students and families during face-to-face check-ins and for some direct instruction, Lindley adds. In addition, DEED partnered with Florida Virtual School to quickly launch a statewide virtual school option to support capacity for distance-delivered instruction.

Section 4104(b)(3)(C)(ii) of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, allows states to use funds for activities and programs that may include supporting local educational agencies in providing programs and activities that increase access to personalized, rigorous learning experiences carried by technology by assisting schools in rural and remote areas to expand access to high-quality digital learning opportunities.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication.