Maintaining the continuity of student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has been an extremely challenging feat for most school districts across the country. However, in the nation’s rural school systems, school administrators and teachers face a unique set of challenges. I believe that the way my school system is overcoming these challenges provides rural school districts a new blueprint for teaching and learning in the evolving COVID world.
My school system is located in Elko, Nevada, and like everyone else, we were impacted by COVID during 2020-2021. The Elko County School District covers 17,203 square miles of mountainous terrain and has major industries of ranching and gold mining. When our schools closed at the onset of the pandemic, providing all students with reliable access to the internet was our first priority. Next, we ensured all students had access to a suitable device, which in our district’s case, was a Chromebook.
While our school system was impacted by the first wave of COVID infections like many others, the second wave of COVID in the Fall of 2021 hit the community extremely hard. A massive surge of cases throughout the county created new challenges as students had to be quarantined at home for long periods due to COVID exposure. The uncertainty of whether a student would be in-person or remote from one day to the next remains a constant battle.
To win this battle, the Elko School District has taken steps to help alleviate the challenge of teaching in the COVID era and set a new direction for teaching and learning that I believe will long outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.
Step 1: Ensure continued access to devices and reliable internet
One of the biggest concerns in rural communities is internet connectivity and infrastructure reliability during school hours. The students who didn’t have access to the internet were issued a hotspot. Keeping both teacher and student Chromebooks and hotspots up and running was a difficult task, and credit needs to be given to the Elko County School District Technology Department. They have worked tirelessly to repair broken Chromebooks and solve device issues.
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