Monroe, Greene County K-12 schools help students get internet from home

When COVID-19 forced schools to close and move fully online, school corporations in and around Monroe County rushed to help students who lacked stable internet at home so that they don’t fall behind.

But home internet access was a problem for many families before the pandemic, and it will remain a problem after the pandemic is over. Although schools are unlikely to close again due to COVID-19, there will still be online learning days caused by bad weather or emergencies, and students will still need the internet for homework. .

“It seems like when we started moving to more electronic means of program delivery, it sort of coincided with the pandemic,” said Adam Terwilliger, director of information technology at MCCSC. “We want to prepare students to become digital natives…but I think the pandemic has accelerated our needs.”

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Additionally, an Indiana bill addressed to Governor Eric Holcomb could limit the number of online learning days that are not at least 50% synchronous or teacher-led in real time. This could prove difficult for households that don’t have a stable enough internet to run programs like Zoom or Google Meet. Some schools may reduce online learning accordingly.

It’s not fair to expect students to work online without providing them with the equipment to do so, Terwilliger said. But sometimes it’s hard to do.

Hotspots ‘fill a need’ for MCCSC students

When the pandemic sent students home in 2020, the Monroe County Community School Corp. and other local school corporations responded by extending WiFi into school parking lots and school buses parked in various locations.

The most effective solution, however, was to provide students with their own Wi-Fi hotspots to take home.

In August 2020, MCCSC purchased 200 WiFi hotspots to donate to students in need, Terwilliger said. In 2021, he ordered another 200 to meet growing demand. The hotspots were purchased with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and an in-kind donation from Source for Learning, a Virginia-based nonprofit.

No student has ever been turned away from receiving a hotspot, Terwilliger said.

“It’s something that went surprisingly well for us,” he said. “It really fills a need.”

Sometimes families call the school corporation to say they’re still struggling with uneven service, Terwilliger said. But that’s not something the school can help.

“The only issues we have with (the hotspots) would be the same issues that families have with their access in more difficult areas,” he said. “So like if we’re on our phones and we’re in a 3G zone, it’s harder to access faster internet than if you’re in an LTE zone.”

Lakeview Elementary student Nash Porter listens to teacher Dana Oxender during the first day of virtual school on August 12, 2020.

Unreliable internet in certain coverage areas is a separate but widespread problem. But not being able to pay for the internet in the first place is where hotspots help. About 15% of Monroe County households did not have a high-speed internet subscription from 2015 to 2019, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

In the event of spotty service, students can visit places such as the Monroe County Public Library to use free WiFi. MCPL extended its WiFi into the parking lot several years ago and has more than a dozen computers available in the children’s and teen departments inside, said Josh Wolf, assistant director of public services.

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“Usually when I arrive in the morning on any given day, there’s a couple cars in there with people with laptops or phones, so I know they’re using (WiFi),” Wolf said. , when I leave at night, there are usually a few cars where people stay and use the WiFi signal.”

The library also has about 60 portable WiFi hotspots that are still in use, often by families with children, Wolf said.

The need for hotspots for MCCSC students is less pressing now that the pandemic is unlikely to close schools again, Terwilliger said, but hotspots aren’t going away.

“Pandora’s box has been opened,” he said. “It’s not something we would ever consider not having.”

The Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. also began providing student Wi-Fi hotspots around the start of the pandemic. The district plans to maintain at least a few long-term access points for students who need them the most, said Brittany Tucker, R-BB communications coordinator.

Nash Porter listens to Lakeview Elementary teacher Dana Oxender on the first day of virtual school on August 12, 2020.

Greene County schools unsure about future of Wi-Fi hotspots

In nearby areas such as Greene County, the need to provide students with internet is even greater.

In Greene County, nearly 30% of households did not have a high-speed internet subscription from 2015 to 2019, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

Schools in Linton-Stockton and Eastern Greene received Wi-Fi hotspots in 2020 with grants from the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund. Linton-Stockton Superintendent Kathy Goad said she was using a hotspot herself or she wouldn’t be able to work from home.

However, both companies’ hotspots were purchased under contracts that expire this summer. At this time, no district is sure that the contracts will be renewed.

“I can’t guarantee we can afford to extend this,” Eastern Greene superintendent Trent Provo said.

Indiana bill could restrict online learning

A bill led by Governor Eric Holcomb could limit schools to three days of online learning that are not at least 50% synchronous. The bill, HB 1093, passed the Indiana House and Senate last week.

Asynchronous teaching includes activities such as pre-recorded lectures and online discussion forums. Synchronous teaching would include live online classes.

If the bill becomes law, it will come into force in July. Schools could request waivers to this new rule in “extraordinary circumstances,” the bill says.

On e-learning days, students at Linton-Stockton schools who cannot access the internet must complete work after returning to school, Goad said.

“They should do the work afterwards, as well as the learning they were doing in class,” she said. “It was just a disadvantage for these children.”

Schools in Eastern Greene require the same, Provo said. Sometimes, if an e-learning day was planned well in advance, schools could provide paper packets. But in cases like sudden bad weather or emergencies, it is not possible.

Goad said the House bill could affect how the school corporation determines its schedules in the future, meaning online learning days could be replaced by snow days.

“Whether or not children have access to it would certainly play a role as well,” Goad said. “Because, especially over the past two years, we don’t want our kids to miss learning on campus more than they have to.”

Provo said schools in Eastern Greene are trying to implement as few online learning days as possible for the same reason.

“There really is no replacement for being in the classroom,” he said.

Contact Herald-Times reporter Christine Stephenson at [email protected]

Norma A. Roth