As the school year starts to draw to a close, students and teachers are preparing for the possibility that distance education is here to stay for the foreseeable future. This comes on the heels of the rapid transition to online learning for millions of students around the country. To make sure those students don’t fall behind, America’s broadband leaders have extended their offerings to low-income students through the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, as well as through community programs, including public–private partnerships such as the one between Mediacom and Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS)–the largest school district in Iowa.
With approximately 77 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced meals, DMPS students are particularly vulnerable to the opportunity gap and digital divide. But when COVID-19 hit and schools had to quickly close their doors, DMPS was able to rapidly pivot to remote learning with the help of Mediacom.
Prior to this year, DMPS boasted a virtual school that served a select subset of students. This “virtual campus” provided a roadmap for the rest of the district as it quickly transitioned to full time remote education. In order to tackle this project, the school district sent out a survey in mid-March to gauge how many students lacked home computers and internet. After identifying more than 1,800 student homes that lacked a hard-wired connection, Mediacom quickly set out to extend broadband to those households at no charge to the families. The provider has been installing about 500 new connections a week, as well as rolling out mobile Wi-Fi hotspots around the city to give students a temporary solution to connect online and complete their lessons.
In order to roll out this distance learning program, Mediacom and DMPS have undertaken a huge IT project involving programming software and distributing laptops to students who don’t have them, all while maintaining social distancing. At the same time, Des Moines teachers have quickly transitioned to online education and have created new lesson plans with the knowledge that all students will have broadband access.
Educators have been faced with the difficult task of teaching kids in completely new ways in lieu of in-person classroom learning, but ensuring that all families have access to a broadband connection is a critical first step towards closing the digital divide. Des Moines is on track to guarantee all students are on equal footing for whatever the future holds as Mediacom continues to connect homes and work with the district to further student learning during the ongoing pandemic.