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Safely Back to School: How districts are working to narrow the digital divide

COVID-19 pandemic sharpens digital divide for rural students
Posted at 10:48 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 22:48:00-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Across West Michigan school districts are working on narrowing a digital divide, the challenge that comes when thousands of students who normally learn in classrooms will be forced to learn from home.

“Leaving children behind that's what keeps us up at night, figuring out in this kind of model,” Caycee Sledge, Intructional Technology Coordinator at Kalamazoo Public Schools said.

Right now, Kalamazoo Public Schools is preparing as if school will be completely virtual come fall…

Well the first challenge immediately was access to devices and internet. So that was a first challenge to make sure that all of our students would be able to access some form of remote learning,” Sledge explains.

KPS says they’re on their way to fully tackling that issue.

They are distributing Chromebooks to any student that needs it.

They’ve also partnered with local organizations to get more than 1000 WiFi hot-spots available, which families can sign out for at their local library.

“We took the data early in the spring and throughout the summer of, who doesn't have WiFi and families that have requested in the need for WiFi and haven't been able to take advantage of any of these small offers by local cable companies. Will be able to use these WiFi hot-spots through their one card through the students one card,” KPS Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development Matt McCullough said.

Another challenge is providing support for students with special needs, something the district is working on.

They plan on remaining flexible and working closely with those students who require it.

“There may be a home base for students with disabilities or maybe a home-base for students with English as a second language there may be a home-base for homeless students,” McCullough said.

“So even when we are talking about being fully virtual or fully remote at some point in the future, if we might have to do that, we still have to keep in mind that certain students have certain needs that we're going to have to address,” McCullough added.

It’s not ideal, but it’s what the future could hold and instructors are confident, students will pick up on technology quirks, new models and be able to successfully learn in this new setting.

They also want to answer any questions parents may have.

“It's hard to give an overall suggestion to parents and families but I would definitely be asking the question what's expected of my child to be successful, what's expected of me to be successful and what is a scheduled day, week, month unit look like in whatever version I'm going to be using with my child,” McCullough explained.

KPS wants to offer both a full online-schooling model and still offer in person classes, where parents can choose what they’d be comfortable with.

Though there has been push back from the local teacher’s union who want fully online.

A final decision for the district’s reopening plan will be issued next week.