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Connectivity for Students in Rural Communities

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, digital equity advocates in education sounded alarm bells about the long-term effects that lack of Internet access at home had on students, which is often referred to as the Homework Gap.

Statistics cited in 2015 by the FCC showed that while 7 in 10 teachers assigned homework requiring Internet access at home, 1 in 3 students did not have broadband Internet at home. This put them at a clear disadvantage when compared to their peers with Internet access, hurting their test scores and lowering their graduation rates.

In rural communities, the digital divide is even more problematic because of problems of access, high costs, lack of infrastructure, low adoption rates, and even absenteeism at school.

So how do students in rural, suburban, and urban communities generally cope without Internet at home? With surprising ingenuity, it turns out.

In addition to turning on their mobile hotspots, students without Internet access at home often resort to visiting fast food restaurants or other public places to get the WiFi they need to complete their schoolwork.

But these makeshift measures often mean staying out late, putting students at risk each time they leave their homes. Additionally, the “free” Internet services available in those public spaces are not designed for young, impressionable children and leave them open to unsafe and harmful content, if not unwelcome distractions.

In rural communities, these types of accommodations are even more difficult to execute. After COVID-19 and the restrictions on large congregations it has introduced, they’re almost impossible.

School district leaders across the country have been scrambling to solve the problem of digital access in rural communities for some time. The push to distance learning necessitated by COVID-19 has only increased the sense of urgency surrounding the issue.

In a blog

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Pre-Pandemic: ​Research into Virtual Communities of Practice(VCoP)​, Part 1

(Part 1 of 3)

Pre-Pandemic: ​Research into Virtual Communities of Practice(VCoP)​

It was parent teacher night, and my daughter’s third grade teacher welcomed us to her well-decorated classroom.

More than twenty strips of paper were hung three feet above the ground and were adorned with a Facebook logo and a single statement, ​What’s on your mind?​ Students used dry-erase markers to share their daily ​social emotional​ status with the teacher and class. A gallery walk revealed a daily snapshot of the teacher’s current class climate.

The teacher went on to explain that she pulled this idea, as well as meeting some of her other professional development needs, from her ​social media​ and ​Web 2.0​ tools.

Social anthropologists, ​Lave & Wenger​ studied naturally-formed learning environments which they termed a ​community of practice​ (CoP). Like its CoP predecessor, an educational​ virtual community of practice​ (VCoP) has three(3) essential elements: community, domain, and the practice(s). Teachers (community) seek others with similar professional development needs (domain) and share teaching resources and techniques (practices).

Teachers have been naturally forming CoPs within their grade/subject-level teams. The dawn of the Internet allowed for the expansion of their CoPs to accept virtual counterparts from all over the globe. Typically, the group is solution-oriented and tends to listen to those “expert” members who have methods/resources that have been proven in the field.

Despite the natural presence of these CoPs in bringing about actual classroom-level change, few academic institutions recognize this model of professional development as a part of a teacher’s continuing education credits.

My daughter’s teacher was able to take a practice that she pulled from her VCoP and improve the educational experience for her students; she should have been

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Seton Education Partners: What did we do to get ahead of the curve on a COVID response? 

I expect that most everyone likes to think of themselves as being nimble and able to adapt to most any challenge.  The nasty COVID19 bug is putting that “thinking” to the test, as we now have to be “doing”. This is especially true for those of us involved in education. 

As the Managing Director of Seton Education Partners I’m proud  to say  we reacted both nimbly and intelligently – though obviously not without hiccups. Seton is a national network of character rich, academically excellent, and—for those families who choose it, faith-nurturing—schools. We work in underserved communities at the elementary and middle school levels and  a new Catholic academy – Romero – that will open this fall in Ohio.

So what did we do to get ahead of the curve on a COVID response?  Early on we realized  our “constituents” – largely minority and lower income kids and families – would be hard hit by the virus and be the most likely not to have access to the technology or tools for remote and digital learning. We needed to be “early responders” in equipping our kids  to seamlessly continue their learning. 

It took “all hands on deck” effort, so before most school closures were even announced  we created an Emergency Task Force of  key leaders.  It wasn’t rocket science to know we didn’t want kids going home without the tools to continue  learning immediately, so we sent them home with backpacks full of books and two weeks worth of learning materials. We developed a  plan and tiered resources  to send to leaders and teachers in waves. All of our schools were already blended learning schools, so we leveraged our existing relationships  with organizations like Edmentum,  iReady and Lexia to go from school to home learning

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