Distance learning isn’t easy — especially without high-speed internet.
But Long Creek School District has overcome the hurdles to provide a consistent education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After purchasing iPads with cellular data plans for all of the students and installing cell signal boosters, the school is now able to provide comprehensive distance learning.
Long Creek School Office Manager Jennifer Garinger said, distance learning came with a learning curve, but the year has been going well. Early on, the school board and teachers were concerned about having to shift between in-person and online classes during the school year, so they focused only on preparing for online coursework.
“We found this power in the fact that we know this is what we’re doing,” Garinger said. “We don’t have to have lesson plans in case we’re in person or online. We are dedicated to this one model, and it allows us to overcome the (distance learning) hurdles. ... Maybe this wouldn’t have worked at a different district, but for us, it works.”
With minimal broadband, the school district purchased iPads with data plans because they rely on cellular towers for online usage to provide a more stable connection to online programs.
“Data works better in Long Creek,” Garinger said. “It’s still not good, but it’s way better than internet.”
Garinger said getting the iPads and setting them up for students was a process. Each iPad needed software that monitored usage and blocked students from harmful websites.
Students then went to the school in groups to be trained on how to use the tablets for classes.
The iPads were not ready at the beginning of the school year, so most work was originally done through packets. Students and teachers worked together in the warmer weather at the beginning of the school year to find ways to enhance learning.
“Our teachers were going to public places outdoors and meeting with students with the masking and social distancing,” Garinger said. “They would meet at the park once a week with the high school and junior high kids or some porches, on front yards and things like that.”
Some students also came up to the school building and sat on the sidewalk to use the internet.
“It was a strange setup, but it worked,” Grainger said. “It worked for our kids while we got these iPads ready to deploy.”
Garinger said it was perfect timing because the iPads were ready when the weather cooled down and made outdoor education difficult.
Even with the iPads, though, many households did not have a great cellular signal. To overcome the new hurdle, the school purchased every family in the district a cell signal booster.
“Every family in our district now has optimized cellular service for education,” Garinger said. “It’s going to work and help us get through the rest of this year, allowing our students to have the connection and unity.”
Garinger said parents have been supportive and teachers have adapted well to the new format.
“They know it’s distance learning, and this is what we’re doing,” Garinger said. “Even if it requires all kinds of work around, they know this is the way the school year will be, and they always help out as much as they can.
“COVID is terrible and tough, but I think Long Creek has shown its strength through COVID. It showed Long Creek’s dedication to each other and the community at large. In the end, we will all be fine.”