Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - 12

Addressing the

CONNEC TIVIT Y GAP
Education partners work together to advance distance learning
By Meghan Frick

March, all K-12 public schools in the state closed for in-person
operations, and teachers, students and parents tackled the
transition to distance learning.
Morning announcements, school clothes and recess gave
way to pajamas, video lessons and Zoom calls. Some families,
though, were met with spinning circles, lagging data and
internet service unequal to the challenge of working and
learning at home.
"Internet connectivity is, hands down, the greatest challenge we faced in the transition to distance learning in Georgia,"
says Richard Woods, Georgia's
state school superintendent.
"Schools did absolutely
tremendous work moving to
a new environment, as did
students and their families.
With very little lead time, they
adapted to an entirely new
way of learning. But in some
areas-particularly the rural
parts of our state-connectivity was an additional hurdle
for schools and families to
overcome."
Partners across the
state-including the Georgia
Department of Education
(GaDOE), the Georgia Foundation for Public Education
(GFPE) and the Governor's Office of Student Achievement
(GOSA)-worked together to bridge the connectivity gap as
much as possible.
The three organizations partnered with AT&T to deploy
448 Wi-Fi rangers-devices that can be placed on school buses
or other public vehicles, enabling internet connections for up
to 45 devices at a time-across the state. The GFPE and GOSA's
Innovation Fund Foundation quickly created the COVID-19
Response Fund, a grant opportunity to help school districts
respond to the challenges of the pandemic. The GaDOE
leveraged federal funds to award $21 million in digital
learning grants to school districts, created a Restart Guide to
help districts plan for increasing digital access and worked with

12

Georgia Magazine

August 2020

the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative to map out
public Wi-Fi access points for schools and families.
"Right now, we have pivoted to helping school districts
address the impacts of the pandemic," says Paige Pushkin, the
GFPE's executive director. "That includes helping schools close
connectivity and device gaps, which are a problem that extends
beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Children need reliable internet and device access to get a 21st-century education, and this
need will still exist even when the immediate effects of the virus
recede."
Even for students who can easily access the devices they
need, connectivity can be a
tougher problem to solve,
particularly in rural Georgia.
Kim Higginbotham, a lawyer
whose children attend school
in Elberton, a rural town on
the Georgia-South Carolina
border, described distance
learning without reliable
internet as a daily struggle.
"This is really the same
thing as rural Georgia in 1937
or 1938 needing electricity,"
Higginbotham says.
Electric membership
cooperatives and their members have been playing a powerful role in helping schools,
families and students close
the connectivity gap, but much work remains.
Distance learning challenges vary from one school district
to another, but broadly, districts are facing challenges in the
areas of connectivity, subscription/adoption and devices.
"Ultimately, it is going to take partnerships and commitments statewide to address the issues of connectivity and access
in rural Georgia," Pushkin says. "But I'm confident we can do
this-that as a state, we can come together and create the conditions for all children to be connected and ready to learn."
Meghan Frick is the director of communications at the
Georgia Department of Education in Atlanta.
iSTOCK / ND3000

When the COVID-19 pandemic came to Georgia in

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Georgia Magazine - August 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - August 2020

Contents
Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - 4
Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - 5
Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - 6
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Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - Cover3
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