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Getting kids online is now the agenda

The Kump Education Center Board of Directors had their first online meeting last Thursday. Logan Smith set up the connection and eight directors joined the meeting. At the end, President Priscilla Gay said we should have more online conferences because so many new ideas came up during the hour, and members volunteered to look into new possibilities.

Before the Covid-19 shutdown, KJ Shaffer tutored alternative learning students at the KEC using laptops and internet services provided by Altice. He and I had been talking before the meeting about ways to expand internet services and online learning opportunities for all Randolph County students – even those who live in remote rural areas like Ellamore, Dry Fork, and Mingo.

Last week The Inter-Mountain reported that Upshur County is planning to provide an iPad for every student next year. Upshur has about the same number of students as Randolph, but the total area of our county is much larger. Providing high speed internet that can support online classes will be more challenging for Randolph County Schools.

Of course, it might be best if the state could bring broadband internet services to the whole area, but that political project may take several more years. KEC board members agreed to seek information from elected officials and community leaders on plans for future broadband service; however, the group agreed that various types of alternative access systems may be necessary if students have to stay home part of all of the 2020-2021 school year.

If schools are closed part of next year, students will become more significantly behind. However, local service providers cannot afford to add many more miles of cable for such a sparse population; they need to serve 50 houses for every mile of cable that they install across a mountainous terrain. One of our local DSL providers has just declared bankruptcy. The KEC Directors are exploring alternative ways to get high speed internet access for all Randolph County students at home.

Assistant Superintendent Joseph Arbogast and former City Councilwoman Nanci Bross-Fregonara are new members of the KEC Board this spring, and Councilwoman Judy Guye Swanson serves on our board. We will be collaborating with the City of Elkins and Randolph County Public Schools to seek grants to help local students gain internet accessibility and technology at home.

In the meantime, Andrew Carroll and Amanda Poling are starting to provide teacher training on using online teaching methods. Under normal circumstances they teach at Elkins High School, and they have both served as members of the Kump Education Center Board for the last year.

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