The Challenges of Broadband Access in Rural Schools
Rural school districts face many unique trials, and access to educational technology is no different. But the obstacles aren’t just about location. In many cases, school leaders need to justify why the district should invest in the first place. During the edWebinar “Technology in Rural Schools: Leading with Why,” the presenters discussed how they overcame challenges and helped the community understand the value of tech in schools.
First, the presenters agreed that while there are multiple potential uses for school technology, their main goal is to provide students with a competitive education. While some students may choose to stay in the local area, school leaders want them to have the skills to succeed if they decide to leave.
But in order to take advantage of edtech, they first need broadband access. Telecom companies often forget about rural areas because they don’t have high population density. Thus, the price tag for getting connectivity can be expensive; in fact, the schools and some businesses may be the only place with reliable access. Tim Smith, Supervisor of Instructional Practice and Technology Integration, Red Lion Area School District (PA), said having politicians and community leaders support the need for connectivity is essential. He frequently reaches out to them and invites them to school events and constantly nurtures those relationships. The result is that representatives and others will now come to them and ask what the school needs.
Even when broadband is available, many students don’t have access at home. Thus, Smith said his schools and students have reached out to local businesses and asked them if students can do homework there for a few hours. Even though the students can’t spend much, the businesses receive positive publicity for their support and are usually ready to help out the students.
Similarly, Luke Meinert, Assistant Superintendent, Yukon-Koyukuk School District (AK), said that his team has turned their schools into community hubs. They’ve opened up their doors to their neighbors for their own broadband needs. For example, community members may use school computers to fill out necessary online paperwork with assistance from school staff or help local civic organizations set up alumni databases and communications networks.
Sometimes, though, the local communities aren’t responsive to the schools’ needs for technology. A common misgiving is that they will lose some of the small town values if they get too connected to the outside world through technology. One way that Smith has counteracted that is by bringing in local farmers to explain how technology has helped their businesses. Jamie Foreman, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, Albemarle County Public Schools (VA), said that his schools have focused on culturally responsive content to meet the needs of their diverse community.
Ultimately, the focus should be on the learning and decreasing the gap between pedagogy and technology. Foreman said one thing his district is changing is integrating the tech plan in with the district’s overall strategic plan so that the community doesn’t see the technology as separate from the education goals.
More important, to the presenters is teaching the students responsible technology use. “We talk a lot about the fact that kids are coming into our schools and they know how to use technology, but they don’t know how to use it in a productive and effective way,” said Smith, “And it’s our job to be able to give them those tools so they use them effectively, efficiently, and productively.”
This article was modified and published by eSchool News.
About the Presenters
Jamie Foreman is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia. He is passionate about student-centered approaches to teaching and learning and believes technology can powerfully support all students’ access to learning, increase student agency and voice, and can support high-quality learning experiences that incorporate the 5 Cs. Jamie started his career as a language arts and science teacher at Fluvanna Middle School. He then transitioned to the role of Instructional Technology Resource teacher at the same school, which he continued until 2010. In 2010, he was hired by Albemarle County Public Schools as an instructional technology specialist. Jamie holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.T. in elementary education from the University of Virginia. He recently added a School Administration Endorsement through coursework at James Madison University.
Luke Meinert is the Director of Technology for the Yukon Koyukuk School District in Alaska. He holds master’s degrees in both educational technology and educational leadership. Luke is passionate about providing innovative services and solutions for our Alaskan students. He founded Esports Alaska in 2018 that had over 30 teams compete in its inaugural season. The National School Boards Association named him a “20 To Watch Educational Technology Leader”, and he was honored with ISTE’s Making IT Happen award.
Tim Smith is the Supervisor of Instructional Practice and Technology Integration at Red Lion Area School District in rural, south-central Pennsylvania. Tim’s passion is helping educators and administrators integrate modern practices and digital-age, instructional strategies into their classrooms and schools in meaningful ways. Tim, a veteran educator of over 20 years, has a background as a high school social studies teacher, is a CoSN Certified Education Technology Leader, and a Google Certified Trainer. He has previously taught at both the middle and high school levels and has served as an elementary and secondary administrator. Tim regularly presents and leads professional development at state and national events.
About the Host
Dr. Beth Holland is the Digital Equity and Rural Project Director for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). Over the past 20 years, she has taught in K-12 classrooms, served as Director of Academic Technology in a PS-8 independent school, designed professional learning programs for schools around the world, and developed leadership programs to support systemic change. Additionally, she is a prolific writer, researcher, and speaker. Dr. Holland holds an Ed.D. in entrepreneurial leadership in education from Johns Hopkins University, an Ed.M. in technology, innovation, and education from Harvard University, as well as a B.S. in communications from Northwestern University.
Join the Community
Tech for Rural Districts is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders that work in rural school districts.
CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. CoSN provides thought leadership resources, community, best practices and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. CoSN represents over 13 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education.