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Monday, September 28, 2020

Top Stories > Education

Districts helping students with lack of internet access

Sep 7, 2020

By Joseph Abraham - co-editor

By: Democrat file photo by Kathy Daley
These students at the Monticello Central School District last September were utilizing technology in their learning. While things look much different this year as part of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, technology has become more important than ever.
SULLIVAN COUNTY -- It's no secret that the lack of high speed internet access is an issue in Sullivan County. As part of the NYS Broadband Mapping Project in 2014, it was revealed that of the 56,412 Sullivan County sites assessed, 4,507 or eight percent, were deemed underserved by broadband.
Back in the present, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many jobs and schools to go remote, students and families without reliable internet access are struggling.
With school starting this week, here's a look at what each of Sullivan County's eight school districts have done to accommodate their students.

Fallsburg
For remote learning, the Fallsburg Central School District is assisting families without internet access by providing mobile hotspots. Their most recent parent survey, which went out in early July, indicated that approximately five percent of their students do not have access to WiFi.
A total of 301 families responded to the survey (a 32 percent return rate). In addition to the mobile hotspots, the district is identifying WiFi access areas in their school parking lots.
Fallsburg will be remote for the first marking period, with the hope of putting a hybrid model in place for the second marking period. According to Fallsburg Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ivan Katz, families without internet will be a top priority when it comes to scheduling students for in-person, hybrid education.

Tri-Valley
In Grahamsville, the Tri-Valley Central School District gave students without internet the flexibility to attend school on all four days that they will have students physically coming in.
For students without internet access, but who have Verizon cell service, the district is providing each family with a Verizon hotspot to give them the ability to connect for schoolwork only. The access will be linked to district devices and work when those devices are in operation. These hotspots have 4G access and no "turndown" in data, which means unlimited access.
For families without those options, and who are not sending students in, the district will give them thumb drives each week containing the lessons their teachers are teaching to the rest of the students. Each week they will swap thumb drives to exchange old material for new.
Tri-Valley Superintendent of Schools Mike Williams also notes that the district is designating a number of parking spots in their parking lot which will allow students without internet that are not willing to come in, a spot to park and access their WiFi service to collect or turn in assignments and instruction.

Eldred
According to Scott Krebs, principal of George Ross Mackenzie Elementary School, they have sent correspondence to parents and are currently working with the internet/cable providers who have said that they would provide service if needed for students to take advantage of online access.
“As the school year starts we will determine if we have found all the students, and if not, we are utilizing our home to school liaison to help families with access,” explained Krebs.

Manor and Roscoe
According to Shared Superintendent of the Downsville, Livingston Manor and Roscoe Central School Districts John Evans, at the beginning of the pandemic Spectrum was offering all kinds of incentives, so the districts put a lot of families in contact with them.
In areas where there is cell service, they also purchased a couple of internet hotspots for families that needed them the most.
However, for families without internet and/or cell service, the district has been working on developing alternative learning options which vary by student age, grade and by subject area.

Liberty
The Liberty Central School District has also purchased hot spots for families in need. They've also added hotspots all around the district property so that students can go on the internet in their parking lots. They also increased the bandwidth and they have devices for all their students.
“We must ensure a solid education for all of our students, whether they are learning in-person or virtually," said Liberty Superintendent of Schools Dr. Augustine Tornatore.

Sullivan West
Since the beginning of the pandemic-related closure of their school buildings, Sullivan West has been in contact with each family to determine their level of Internet access.
“For those students whose families do not have Internet access at home, we are prioritizing them to receive more regular in-person instruction and seeking to connect them with local resources to assist them in accessing reliable Internet access outside of school,” said Sullivan West Superintendent of Schools Stephen Walker. “We are also issuing District-owned devices to families who need them, in order to support students learning from home.”

Monticello
In terms of remote/hybrid learning, the Monticello Central School District has four cohort placements (A-D). They are prioritizing students who lack internet access into Cohort C placement (four days of in-person instruction). They are also providing hotspots to families in need, as well as a device for each student in the district. They're also working on an individual basis with any family who has a barrier to connectivity to find a solution. Pending funding, the district also plans to increase their WiFi signal to accommodate WiFi in their parking lots.
“In the modern era, and particularly in light of our current circumstances, connectivity and technological aptitude are essential components to learning,” Monticello Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Evans said. “As educators, it is our duty to provide students with the tools and resources they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. We're doing everything in our power to ensure our students and staff can stay connected and engaged in meaningful learning experiences.”

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