Rural schools tackle many challenges, and getting reliable broadband access is usually at the top of the list

The challenges of broadband access in rural schools

Rural schools tackle many challenges, and getting reliable broadband access is usually at the top of the list

Rural school districts face many unique trials, and access to educational technology is no different. But the obstacles aren’t just about location. In many cases, school leaders need to justify why the district should invest in the first place.

During the edWebinar “Technology in Rural Schools: Leading with Why,” presenters discussed how they overcame challenges and helped the community understand the value of tech in schools.

Related content: 7 broadband best practices

The presenters agreed that while there are multiple potential uses for school technology, their main goal is to give students a competitive education. While some students may choose to stay in the local area, school leaders want them to have the skills to succeed if they decide to leave.

But in order to take advantage of edtech, they first need broadband access. Telecom companies often forget about rural areas because they don’t have high population density. Thus, the price tag for getting connectivity can be expensive–in fact, schools and some businesses may be the only places with reliable broadband access.

Tim Smith, supervisor of instructional practice and technology integration in the Red Lion Area School District (PA), says having politicians and community leaders support the need for broadband access and connectivity is essential. He frequently reaches out and invites stakeholders to school events to nurture those relationships. This helps form a relationship between the school and political and community leaders, who will begin to approach the school and ask what the school needs.

Even when broadband is available, many students don’t have broadband access at home. Thus, Smith says his schools and students have reached out to local businesses and asked them if students can do homework there for a few hours. Even though the students can’t spend much, the businesses receive positive publicity for their support and are usually ready to help the students.

Similarly, Luke Meinert, assistant superintendent in the Yukon-Koyukuk School District (AK), says his team has turned district schools into community hubs. They’ve opened up their doors to their neighbors for their own broadband access needs. For example, community members may use school computers to fill out necessary online paperwork with assistance from school staff or help local civic organizations set up alumni databases and communications networks.

Sometimes, though, the local communities aren’t responsive to the schools’ needs for technology. A common misgiving is that they will lose some of the small town values if they get too connected to the outside world through technology. One way that Smith counteracts this is by bringing in local farmers to explain how technology has helped their businesses. Jamie Foreman, deputy chief technology officer with Albemarle County Public Schools (VA), says his schools have focused on culturally responsive content to meet the needs of their diverse community.

Ultimately, the focus should be on the learning and decreasing the gap between pedagogy and technology. Foreman says his district is integrating the edtech plan in with the district’s overall strategic plan, which will help prevent the district community from viewing the technology as separate from educational goals.

Perhaps most important to the presenters is teaching students responsible technology use.

“We talk a lot about the fact that kids are coming into our schools and they know how to use technology, but they don’t know how to use it in a productive and effective way,” says Smith, “And it’s our job to be able to give them those tools so they use them effectively, efficiently, and productively.”

About the presenters

Jamie Foreman is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia. He is passionate about student-centered approaches to teaching and learning and believes technology can powerfully support all students’ access to learning, increase student agency and voice, and can support high-quality learning experiences that incorporate the 5 Cs. Jamie started his career as a language arts and science teacher at Fluvanna Middle School. He then transitioned to the role of Instructional Technology Resource teacher at the same school, which he continued until 2010. In 2010, he was hired by Albemarle County Public Schools as an instructional technology specialist. Jamie holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.T. in elementary education from the University of Virginia. He recently added a School Administration Endorsement through coursework at James Madison University.

Luke Meinert is the Director of Technology for the Yukon Koyukuk School District in Alaska. He holds master’s degrees in both educational technology and educational leadership. Luke is passionate about providing innovative services and solutions for our Alaskan students. He founded Esports Alaska in 2018 that had over 30 teams compete in its inaugural season. The National School Boards Association named him a “20 To Watch Educational Technology Leader”, and he was honored with ISTE’s Making IT Happen award.

Tim Smith is the Supervisor of Instructional Practice and Technology Integration at Red Lion Area School District in rural, south-central Pennsylvania. Tim’s passion is helping educators and administrators integrate modern practices and digital-age, instructional strategies into their classrooms and schools in meaningful ways. Tim, a veteran educator of over 20 years, has a background as a high school social studies teacher, is a CoSN Certified Education Technology Leader, and a Google Certified Trainer. He has previously taught at both the middle and high school levels and has served as an elementary and secondary administrator. Tim regularly presents and leads professional development at state and national events.

About the host

Dr. Beth Holland is the Digital Equity and Rural Project Director for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). Over the past 20 years, she has taught in K-12 classrooms, served as Director of Academic Technology in a PS-8 independent school, designed professional learning programs for schools around the world, and developed leadership programs to support systemic change. Additionally, she is a prolific writer, researcher, and speaker. Dr. Holland holds an Ed.D. in entrepreneurial leadership in education from Johns Hopkins University, an Ed.M. in technology, innovation, and education from Harvard University, as well as a B.S. in communications from Northwestern University.

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Tech for Rural Districts is a free professional learning community on for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders that work in rural school districts..

This edWeb broadcast was co-hosted by CoSN and The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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