ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — We all live glued to our WiFi — especially once the quarantine shut us inside, away from work and school. For rural communities without reliable internet access, adjusting to the pandemic was especially challenging.
“Your ZIP Code shouldn’t dictate the quality of your education,” says Renee Garrett, the Forestville Central School District superintendent and a member of the Rural Schools Association.
She was one of the first to sign her district up for T-Mobile’s “Project 10 Million”. The goal is to provide 10 million eligible student households with mobile hotspots, coverage plans and devices. Garrett says many students in her area live in dead zones.
“It lacks population density, and it lacks basically, it’s not affordable for the companies to do it. It doesn’t make it attractive to them,” Garrett explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
In fact according to the Rural Schools Association and Champlain Valley Educational Services, New York schools get first dibs on applying to “Project 10 Million” before it goes fully national. The reason is so many areas across New York State fall in the eligibility range based on how many students qualify for free and reduced lunch programs.
“It does vary by school district; however, we are faced with some of our districts have 50, 75, even almost 100 percent of their students that qualify for free and reduced lunch,” explains Dr. Mark Davey, district superintendent and chief executive officer of Champlain Valley Educational Services.
That’s why Dr. Davey encouraged all districts he works with, including those in the Capital Region and North Country, to sign up for T-Mobile’s initiative too. He and Garrett say its best to be prepared just in case the pandemic puts us back at square one.
“Knowing now that we may have to go full remote, and we are in a hybrid model so partially remote, that should not dictate the quality of your education,” says Garrett.
“Improving online access for all our rural students is critical and every resource that is available is helpful to make a difference to our students,” says Dr. Davey.