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Lockdown is over, but the need for better broadband in schools persists

Bowling Green, KY (August 2, 2022) — In spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench in all things familiar in our lives. The world came to a complete halt as each one of us retreated to our homes to ensure the safety of our communities. The two worlds of COVID became very poignant — the effects of the pandemic were slightly inconvenient for some, and absolutely devastating for others.

For a 45-year-old businessman living in the suburbs, the transition was fairly easy. He was able to skip the commute, work from the comfort of his home, spend time with his family and complete the tasks of his job with as much, or even more, efficiency. However, the story wasn’t the same for your average seventh-grade student, in the formative years of his or her life, living on the edge of a school district in middle America.

The middle school stage of our lives is very influential. Most importantly, these years are when we begin to find our passions, learn our study habits, and begin to take individually relevant and rigorous coursework for the first time.

COVID-19 forced the schoolkids of 2020 and 2021 to adapt to these changes outside the classroom and in their own homes. Many schools adapted very quickly and were able to deliver coursework online to their students without hiccups. For those that didn’t adapt as easily, the discrepancies were not with the students and their work, or the schools and their teachers, but with the biggest thing out of the hands of both parties — reliable broadband.

Although students are back in the classroom, these same internet discrepancies exist at home for millions of students nationwide.

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Broadband in the Classroom

In researching this topic, I interviewed teachers from two different school districts in Dubois County, Ind. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Dubois County is just below the national average in households with broadband internet, at 84%. While that 84% has come a long way in recent years, the remaining 16% is still far too big of a number for a well-developed county of 45,000 people in Southern Indiana.

Susan Ahlbrand, an eighth-grade English teacher at Jasper Middle School, shared how the lack of reliable broadband affects her students.

“If students don’t have reliable internet access at home, they are behind the eight ball as far as getting any ‘homework’ accomplished,” said Mrs. Ahlbrand. “Students won’t be able to access our Learning Management System (Canvas), their online textbook, or other tools such as the Google Suite. Often, time is built into the day for students to continue to work on our network … study hall, homeroom, lunchtime … and some especially responsible students will work inside the school after the school day is over, or before school starts.”

Susan Ahlbrand’s daughter, Elisabeth, teaches at Southridge Middle School just 10 miles away in Huntingburg, Ind.

Elisabeth, who is going into her third year of teaching, said, “There are many students at our school that need accommodations such as hotspots and coming in either early or late to work on their homework. We have a ‘Success Time’ program at our school where students stay after school three days a week for two hours to let these students catch up on what they would miss at home.”

Championing Internet for all

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In 2022, a reliable household broadband connection is a necessity, not a privilege. Students in rural areas should have no need to worry about how they are going to talk to their friends or complete their next homework assignment, the same way they should not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.

Schools and teachers are doing everything they can to help their kids with a “no child left behind” mindset, and it is past time for those in charge of these communities to adopt the same mindset and work ethic of their educators. When the school bell rings at 3 p.m., students should be going to club meetings, sports practices, or a friend’s house, not staying late to catch up on homework.

With more funding to expand connectivity available than ever before, now is the time for all communities, rural and urban alike, to partner with community leaders and organizations such as Connected Nation to create more opportunities for equal access.

Connected Nation is committed to improving lives by providing innovative solutions that expand the access, adoption, and use of high-speed internet and its related technologies to all people. We believe everyone belongs in a Connected Nation. For more information about our programs and services for schools and school districts, click here.

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About the Author: Grant Ahlbrand is a Marketing and Communications Intern at Connected Nation. He is an incoming senior at Western Kentucky University, where he is majoring in social media marketing.