By David Marshall, Brookings-Harbor School District Superintendent
In Curry County, the COVID-19 pandemic had two significant technology related impacts. First, the need to quickly figure out remote online education to provide education to students at home dramatically accelerated the integration of technology into instruction.
Second, the experience highlighted an access gap. Many of our families do not have access to high-speed internet. In some cases, families do not have cell service.
When schools were required to switch to remote teaching, staff scrambled to learn how to provide online instruction. They learned how to teach, interact with students and even manage classrooms in an entirely new way. In many cases, the learning curve was steep and challenging.
However, our staff rose to the challenge and delivered online instruction to all students.
This experience provided our teachers unique insights with new and different connections to students. You wouldn’t think it possible to teach physical education online, but our teachers did it and in an individualized way. As we, hopefully, have school shutdowns in the rear-view mirror, we are seeing some lasting changes in the way we approach teaching and learning with technology tools.
Technology and broadband internet has allowed our high school to be more responsive to individual student needs and situations. Our students can access advanced classes online that we cannot offer in person. This expands the opportunities for learning far beyond what a typical high school our size is able to offer.
By leveraging broadband access, we can meet students’ schedules in ways we could not in the past. Many of our high school students have jobs in addition to schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Broadband internet allows us to work with students to develop schedules that meet their needs.
For example, a work schedule could prevent a student from attending the last period of the day. Instead of that student missing the credit opportunity and potentially putting their ability to graduate on time at risk, the student can take an online class and complete the work on their schedule.
The district also continues to offer a full online option for families who wish to continue schooling online.
We’ve seen a significant expansion of online resources from our textbook publishers. These resources allow for remote access as well as support for students to individually extend their learning or review needed skills
not yet fully developed.
Broadband helps support individual needs even at the kindergarten level. A woman recently shared a story with me about her granddaughter’s interest in art. Together, they went online and found an art tutorial on how to draw a person. The art lesson in school captured the student’s interest, and the student was able to explore it much deeper with online access and family support. Grandma showed me the art her granddaughter made by following the online tutorial. We agreed the art did not look like that of a kindergarten student. It was quite advanced.
This brings up the second big takeaway from the pandemic: the access gap. Our grandma and her granddaughter have broadband access. Many families in our community do not. In particular, our families who live out of town may not have options for internet beyond dial-up service. As a short-term solution, the district provided Wi-Fi hotspots that use cell signals for internet access. However, if families did not have cell service at their homes, the hotspots could not provide internet access.
The district provided Wi-Fi in our parking lots and worked with local businesses willing to share their Wi-Fi to help support student access. We even put Wi-Fi on one of our busses and sent it out to different locations to provide access to students. These are great examples of creative problem-solving and a community coming together to support our students in a time of need. Obviously, these are not long-term solutions.
High-quality, in-person instruction is our priority. We will also continue to use technology and broadband more to support individual student needs, interests and growth. Our schools will continue to be a resource for broadband internet access.
Fortunately, access is expanding in our community. That includes a plan by Beacon Broadband and its parent company, Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, to run broadband fiber cables throughout Coos and Curry counties.
In addition, the federal Affordable Connectivity Program helps reduce the costs to qualified users. The program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward broadband internet service for eligible households and up to $75 a month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. More information about this program can be found at www.fcc.gov/acp.
Using technology and broadband to better meet individual student needs strengthens our district. Improving broadband access strengthens our community. Our students and families gain access to a world of opportunity, information and experience while enjoying the benefits of small-town life on the Oregon Coast