Providing rural access to online learning
Members of the Kump Education Center Board of Directors realize that students in remote parts of Randolph County are disadvantaged now that the schools are closed for the remainder of this school year. While students in Elkins can access high speed internet by several means, those options are not available to students in Dry Fork, Huttonsville, Mingo, and Roaring Creek districts.
If students do not have high speed internet, they will not be able to participate in virtual learning
this spring, next fall, or any time schools must be closed. Local teachers are bringing their classes together on Zoom now, but it requires high speed internet service that is not available to everyone.
Logan Smith and I met with Robbie Morris at the Randolph County Development Authority. The RCDA is implementing a “Reconnect” grant to increase broadband availability in collaboration with various internet providers. Three 120-foot towers operate now at Mabie, Dailey, and Rich Mountain. Three more towers will be built this summer at Beverly, Files Creek, and Cassity. In the fall one will be built at Ellamore and more will come later.
However, it takes time and money to build the infrastructure in under-served areas with low population density. The areas of greatest need are near Harman and Huttonsville. Mr. Morris said 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds are available in some areas, and that high speed service will be the goal for county providers like CityNet and MicroLogic. Also, Suddenlink is offering to provide free internet for students impacted by the Covid-19 in their service areas.
KEC President Priscilla Gay suggests that students in Randolph County might benefit from a grant like one Kanawha County has to make every school bus a “hotspot” for wireless devices.
Buses can be wired for Wi-Fi and go wherever they are needed. It is possible to deliver lunches and take technology and tutors on the buses as well.
Another possibility is to use community centers such as firehouses, old post offices, and/or public libraries as local hotspots in remote communities. Right now the Altice Learning Lab at Kump Education Center could serve as a hotspot, with our 10 laptop computers, a printer, a projector, and high speed internet service. Such hotspots should also be open at night when parents would transport their children to these locations.
Food and other necessities could be distributed at these community center locations also. During the pandemic, of course, all county hotspots would need to be places for wearing masks and gloves, practicing social distancing, and keeping hard surfaces clean. In the future, these locations could be used as emergency or tourist information centers and places where people could meet to research and learn more about any topic.