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ITEEA Award Winner's School Provides Internet Access to Remote Students During Shutdown

April 29, 2020

SALAMANCA, NY — Across the country, schools are making difficult choices around COVID-19 closures, including how to best deliver distance instruction.

Salamanca City Central School District superintendent, Robert J. Breidenstein said, “COVID-19 and the mass closures of all New York State Schools for nearly 40 days has thrust Digital Poverty into our daily conversation with remote access, online Pre-K-12 learning and digital content desired but not always possible.”   

According to a 2019 report from the Federal Communications Commission, around 21 million—6 percent—of families in America don’t have home access to broadband at home. Salamanca’s assistant superintendent, Mark Beehler, said that this statistic “vastly undercounts” students in rural locations.

“It’s a problem becoming quickly apparent in our region,” Beehler said. “Many students lack computers or internet at home, and teachers cannot provide the equitable online education to every student when some can’t log in.”

Salamanca students without internet at home previously used libraries and community centers to access the web, but many such gathering places are closed to limit contagion. While waiting for direction from the department of health, it became evident to district leaders that they needed to provide instruction on new curriculum to students.  

“The school district sent students work packets to do at home, and made computers available to students to complete digital assignments,” said high school principal, Christopher Siebert. “However, as new information came out about the pandemic, it quickly became apparent that access to learning materials was only one third of the equation.”

In response, Salamanca schools sent a survey to families and mapped which households did not have regular access to home internet.

“Even though we were sending devices home, we also needed to address internet connectivity, which contributes to the digital divide,” said district instructional coach and ITEEA member, Aaron Straus. “Close to 59 percent of our families fall below the federal poverty line, and many students don't have high-speed Internet access, or a personal device at home.”

To help increase access to school resources, the district delivered a wireless router to remote family homes without a cable run.

“These 4 x 3-inch Kajeet hubs create an instant Internet hotspot in family homes,” said Rob Miller, Salamanca’s director of technology. “Each device attaches itself to the Verizon network and has automatic filters and settings that we can keep or customize for how they are used for academic purposes.”

Each Kajeet, however, is limited by the location and topographic setting of area cellphone towers. Still, district officials say they are committed to helping families with school age children secure internet service.

To that end, Salamanca school also deployed school buses in several locations across Salamanca, allowing families to park near them and use the Wi-Fi. City locations include: Fenton Insurance Agency; Salamanca High School parking lot; Allegany Community Center; Prospect Elementary; Steamburg Community Center; and Indian Park on RC Hoag Drive.

"Our teachers have changed the way they teach, and their lessons are all digital,” said miller. "It's important for us to provide that internet service so we're giving students every advantage we can during these tough times," added Straus.


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