Remote learning highlights internet access challenges

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 7:27 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - As students gear up for a school year mixed with in-person education and remote learning, internet access becomes a top concern for families with limited connectivity.

“This is a new build that started last year. Eleven acres that goes down into the bottom land area. And we are getting ready to finish up in the next week or two,” Franklin County parent Allison Harl said.

When Harl was picking properties, she made sure her cell had service, but in the peaks and valleys of Franklin County, the beautiful landscape can come with an unexpected challenge.

“So we were a little surprised when we started looking into internet options and saw that there were very, very few,” Harl said.

Internet is going to be key as Harl works from home and her son Eli gears up for virtual classes at Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

“The offline access is the biggest struggle we have,” Franklin County Schools Technology Director Tim Morrison said.

A recent survey shows about 20 percent of the students in the district have unreliable internet service, Morrison said.

To address the issue, educators have created lesson plans and content that can be accessed offline from a student’s Chromebook. All students from second to twelfth grade have their own personal laptops to take home.

If students still need to connect, they can use the internet available in any of the school parking lots.

The district is also working to purchase and get internet access through a cell phone provider.

“We are going to the dead spots to try them and see who does the best,” Morrison said.

Right now there’s a need for about 400 to 500 hot spots. The district hopes to have 150 available for students by the start of the school year, Morrison said.

Back in Boones Mill, Harl has found a solution to her internet issues with an advanced hot spot. It comes with a cost, but it will keep her and Eli connected.

“We really weren’t planning on that for our budget, but we don’t have a choice,” Harl said.

Now she just hopes internet access will stay a top priority not only in the school district but throughout the county.

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