When the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home from school, many educators were forced to move their classes entirely online. This shift to distance learning was a significant endeavor, especially as some students did not have internet access at home. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, NCTA celebrates the educators who rose to meet these new challenges. Teachers have gone to great lengths to continue the learning process online. As distance learning plans evolved, educators and broadband providers across the country collaborated to connect students and families in need. These partnerships helped broadband providers expand low- and no-cost broadband adoption programs to those underserved households that lacked an at-home connection when schools shut down.
One program is K-12 Bridge to Broadband, a partnership between cable internet providers and school districts to connect low-income student households to broadband, among other broadband adoption programs. The results have gone a long way to closing the digital divide. “With the move to distance learning, we absolutely didn’t want internet access to be a barrier,” said Matt O’Brien, executive director of technology for Waterloo Community Schools in Iowa. “We were thankful that Mediacom offered us the ability to connect families under a school district account at the same discounted Connect2Compete rate.”
Hundreds of miles away, a similar partnership called “Chicago Connected” was the breakthrough that thousands of Chicago Public School students needed to continue learning from home. “This initiative draws on many of Chicago’s strengths – collaboration between the public and private sectors... working in concert to build a more equitable and inclusive future for the city,” said Matthew Summy, Comcast Regional Vice President of External and Government Affairs.
And in Houston, Texas, a partnership between Comcast and educators at the local community college proved to be a game-changer. “If students had to wait until a Starbucks or a library had to come back or wait for us to redesign our classrooms and buildings for social distancing, they would not have been able to finish [the semester.]” said Dr. Quentin Wright, President of Lone Star College in Houston Texas, who led efforts with Comcast on a solution that delivered hundreds of students at-home connectivity. “We’re so grateful to this partnership. It’s allowed [students] to stay in their homes, finish their work, complete their tests online, access tutoring services online, have the ability to ask the question if they need help. Now they have instant access. It changed everything for us.”
Collaboration among cities, schools, and private providers meant that all partners could focus on the end goal: at-home connectivity. “With a shared commitment to the mission framework in place, we were able to spend a lot of time executing outreach strategies to get families connected,” Comcast’s Summy said about efforts in Chicago.
“Our staff went to extraordinary lengths to reach out to students and ensure that nobody slipped through the crack,” said Waterloo’s O’Brien. “It was amazing to hear stories of how our teachers, administrators, and support staff would do anything necessary to reach and support families—from joining social media to reaching out to dropping items at student doorsteps.”
Educators also recognized that an internet connection was just one piece of the distance learning puzzle. Members of the Everyone Learns initiative in the State of Connecticut worked to expand the partnerships to include equipment like laptops and modems for student families.
In Lafayette, Louisiana, learning took an additional step and went to TV. Educators partnered with Cox Communications to provide educational programming on the local government access cable channel, a resource that was particularly beneficial to students in hybrid learning models. “For 4-5 hours a day we had actual teachers teaching — the first hour for the youngest kids, and as it goes on there’s more advanced materials,” shared Sharon Truxillo, director of public relations, for Cox Communications, Southeast Region. “We had PE teachers involved to get kids active, art teachers to work on mobile skills, and more!”
Through partnerships between school districts and broadband providers, more students gained the connectivity they needed to continue their education from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers and educators have been critical collaborators in helping to close the digital divide and bring at-home connectivity to millions more households. “The tools for school are not only backpacks, notebooks,” said Cox’s Truxillo, “now the tools for school include the internet.”