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The tech problem that’s keeping teachers up at night and what’s being done about it

“Many of my students could not compete. They weren’t even in the race.” 

Baton Rouge, Louisiana (June 15, 2021) – Cecile Morgan teaches math at Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School in Louisiana. She, like thousands of teachers across the US, faced some unexpected challenges in 2020 as everyone was sent home.

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A father helps his daughter finish her homework at home during the pandemic

“We were not only teaching online but also had to make hard copies of everything for our students who did not have internet,” she explained. “For those who did have some internet access, there were other problems. Kids would join us on Zoom. Then, we’d lose them, or we would lose our Zoom. It was really challenging to teach because we’d have the kids there and then suddenly gone because of slow internet.”

The school’s staff also had to make sure every student had a computer.

“It was a huge task, and it was scary because of COVID,” Morgan said. “’Are we risking our lives?’ We didn’t know at the time, and it took months to get everything ready to come back in the fall with half the kids at home, half in the classroom.”

For Crystal Eldringhoff, who was a new teacher at Cristo Rey when the pandemic hit, the whole experience showed her just how wide the Digital Divide is between students who have internet access and those who do not.

“When you teach at private schools you find that students have easy access to the best internet and computers and they are both constantly getting updated,” she explained. “I found in just one year teaching at this Cristo Rey that you really see how kids fall behind simply because they can’t get online.”

She adds the that the experience left many students and teachers frustrated.

“The kids fall behind when they have too many technological issues,” said Eldringhoff. “It is hard enough to learn the materials in a new way, but then when you have to also jump through all these other hoops because you don’t have good internet access it begins to feel impossible. Eventually, they tend to give up.  And, as a teacher, you can’t just teach the material because you’re always having to trouble shoot.”

It was a problem both Eldringhoff and Morgan say educators struggled with around the world.

“Many of my students could not compete. They weren’t even in the race,” said Morgan. “The world was not prepared for what happened, so across the globe kids fell behind. It was like giving them a book and just saying, ‘go home and learn math.’ If they can’t communicate with a teacher, it is like they have nothing. It was horrible, so from March to May, we just reviewed material. We couldn’t really teach new material.”

Cristo Rey’s administrators had helped students get devices but knew they needed to do more, so they turned to Connected Nation and the AT&T Connected Learning homework gap program for help—and the school was awarded 45 hotspots. AT&T is also providing a year of free wireless internet access for those devices. 

“Our teachers talked about how tough it is to manage a classroom when multiple things are coming and going out, and someone wants to respond but they can’t. Students also, understandably, get frustrated and will just sign out,” said Eric Engemann, President, Cristo Rey Baton Rouge. “Having these additional hotspots not only help us ensure classes aren’t so challenging now but also help us address how we help those kids who have some academic loss or have fallen behind during this difficult time.”

Connected Nation, a national nonprofit working for innovative solutions to expand broadband to all people, is overseeing the distribution of hotspots, which was made possible through a $10 million commitment from AT&T. The AT&T Connected Learning program provided 35,000 hotspots to at-risk students across the country in response to the need demonstrated during the pandemic.

“Before the hotspots, many students without access were at a horrible disadvantage.  These kids were on their own and not part of the classes. Lots of them had to drive to places and work from a car, using a business’s Wi-Fi signal,” said Morgan. “That all changed when the school was able to get the hotspots.”

Morgan adds having technology in the classroom is something that is here to stay, and that teachers are already finding new ways to better engage students whether providing instruction in person or remotely. 

She emphasizes that means all of us must embrace the challenge to identify long-term solutions to ensure every student has the internet access and technology they need to take part in classes.

“This problem keeps me up at night,” said Morgan. “I wonder, ‘Who is going to be in my classroom and how am I going to make it work?’ I’m sure other teachers are facing the same questions as we approach the new school year.”

To learn more about Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, head to the school’s website:

More details and resources:
Find low-income internet resources by clicking here.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is providing temporary discounts on internet service and equipment. Learn if you qualify or get free promotional materials here.

Learn more about the impact of the AT&T Connected Learning program by clicking here.