Digital equity, as defined by ISTE, involves “making sure students have equal access to technology like devices, software, and the internet, and that they have trained educators to help them navigate those tools.”
But creating digital equity has historically been a challenge for many school districts – especially those with high need student populations. When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools across the nation to close in March and switch to distance learning in a matter of weeks (or for some, just days), tech teams, administrators, and teachers – as well as students and parents – had no choice but to figure out a solution, and fast.
Rural districts like mine, the Ulysses Unified School District 214 in Kansas, face specific challenges when it comes to digital equity. Perhaps the biggest challenges are making sure students have access to broadband internet service, and making sure supports such as training, digital citizenship classes, classroom management tools, etc. are in place.
Here’s how our district overcame these hurdles, and here are some tips for districts facing similar challenges.
First, let me paint a picture. Ulysses USD is a very rural 1,700-student school district in Western Kansas where farming is the main industry. Approximately 80 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch and we also have a large number of migrant students and students who are English language learners. Until recently, 20 to 30 percent of our students didn’t have internet access at home. Many would stay after school, well into the evening, so they could access the internet.