01STOCK_ETHERNET

It likely will take local students a while to adapt to a technology-based learning style as online classes become the new normal.

For students in rural areas, however, a poor internet connection can make online learning even more challenging.

Area school districts and internet providers are joining forces to try to offer solutions.

The Milton School District has advised rural families to buy cellular smartphone data plans, use wireless hot spots and try parking in the parking lots of public places such as libraries and schools because their internet access often reaches those lots.

The Evansville School District faces similar issues. A number of students live in rural areas with poor internet connections and where cellphone data rarely works.

Scott Everson, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said he is working with families to find a way around the internet obstacles.

“We are absolutely committed to providing an education to every single one of our students during this time, and we are here to help get every single family in our school community assistance in overcoming this internet barrier,” Everson wrote in a letter to parents.

To help schools and businesses through the pandemic, some internet providers are offering reduced pricing.

A document sent to Milton School District families reminds parents that connection strength can vary among devices and browsers.

Milton has been a 1:1 technology district for six years, meaning each student is given a computer. Each high school student has a MacBook Air, and younger students have iPads.

District officials had been planning for online learning before the state government closed schools indefinitely this month.

The planning started after last year’s polar vortex swept through the region, and a pilot day was scheduled for October. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the district to implement its plans earlier than expected.

“With this current situation, we decided to kick in the plan, pilot or no pilot, and our teachers have been incredible,” Ryan Ruggles, director of curriculum and instruction, said last week. “They’ve really risen to the challenge and have been amazing. The work we’ve seen out of them this week, the collaboration, the creativity, it’s been inspirational.”

Some students and faculty live in areas where acquiring or strengthening internet access isn’t an option. In those cases, district officials recommend notifying teachers and trying to prepare work in advance.

“If it is safe and a viable option to travel or ride to a public location where wireless internet is available, then doing schoolwork from that location may be advisable—with parent permission—while it continues to be an option. If you or your child have access to peers in the same courses, it may be possible to get instructions and/or materials from them,” the Milton document reads.

In case of maintenance issues or a need for equipment repair, the Milton district has spare computers. Maintenance will be done on a “case-by-case” basis, said Ryan Curless, the district’s director of innovation and technology.

Ruggles said the education and well-being of students will continue to be the primary focus.

“We want learning to continue,” he said. “We want our kids to continue to grow. We’re educators, and this is what we do.”

At a committee meeting last week, Milton Superintendent Rich Dahman agreed.

“We feel like we’re as ready as possible to roll that (virtual learning) out,” he said.

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