Mulling Over Internet Accessibility

I work in an urban district at the cross-roads of five different cities in Orange County, California. My school is a Title I school meaning that we receive federal funds based on the large percentage of our student population who come from low socioeconomic households. I mention this because many of my students struggled during the COVID-19 school closures with accessibility to devices and reliable Internet. My school attempted to address the device issue by passing out Chromebooks to students. But Internet accessibility was a whole other ballgame. Although Spectrum offered service at a discount, I suspect that many families opted to use their money to pay for rent and food. My district put hotspots in school buses and parked those in strategic places throughout our area, but complaints from the community shut that down rather quickly (don’t get me started on THAT issue).

But I’m writing this post because although I have reliable Internet access at home in South Orange County, California, while we are living at our other home in Northern Michigan, Internet access is limited to hotspots from our cell phones. We live in a rural area…a good distance from the nearest town.

I suppose that we could get wifi here, but that entails having a company come out to the farm to dig a trench and then run I don’t know how many bajillion feet of wire to the nearest box. Because that’s not an expense we are willing to take up at this time, my access to the Internet is solely dependent on the strength and speed of data from my cell phone’s hotspot.

Which brings me to my point about accessibility…

I am teaching online this summer — not because of COVID-19 but because I’m teaching a course in the online doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University. This means that Internet access is an absolute necessity as I need to check emails, read discussion board posts, and download assignments for grading. So far, things seem to be going well. We changed data plans to accommodate my husband’s and my work obligations. But where we used to take for granted our ability to access the Internet through high-speed wifi…here, we are at the mercy of our data plan. 

First world problems, right?

However, this experience (full disclosure: it’s only been one week so far) has made me more cognizant of what many of my own students likely struggled with when school moved entirely online in the spring. I mean, I knew what they were going through because they wrote about it in their Living History Journals. But that makes really stop and think. How many of their parents stressed over choosing Internet access over food or rent? How many worried about how far their child would fall behind without reliable Internet access to their classes? How many were frustrated at the thought that they had one more expense on their plate?

I don’t have any of those problems whether I live in Michigan or California. I am truly blessed in that regard. But I now know from experience that it’s a bit stressful to think about Internet accessibility and what will happen if we go over our data plan. We were told that our Internet speed would be throttled if we went over the GBs allowed on our new plan. So how will that affect my ability to teach or my husband’s ability to virtually lead his team? Luckily, we can afford to up our data plan again which is why I’m not meaning to complain at all. What I’m now fully realizing though is that it’s mentally stressful to think about not having reliable access or having to put more money into cellular data plans. So how much more (infinitely more) must my students and parents have gone through during the 12 weeks when in-person instruction was cancelled…? 

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising in California, it’s plausible that we may either start in-person instruction and move quickly online or just start online in the fall. But now I’m thinking, what can we do as educators…as a school…as a district…to better support the needs of our families so that our students don’t fall behind? What can we do to ensure our parents that we are in this together.

I don’t have any answers (yet). 

Just mulling over things as usual.

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