EDITORIAL: Connections

Schools should keep seeking ways to reach more students

Education in the time of COVID-19 has been an experiment in resilience, among educators, students and their families. School closures forced most districts to create, largely from scratch, systems that enabled teachers to reach students remotely, through web-based social media platforms.

Thank God for those platforms. Just a few short years ago such services didn’t exist, and schools would have had to find other ways to keep students on track, such as picking up packets of exercises on Monday and returning them to school on Friday for grading. This might or might not have been the best option, but given the remarkable job they have done with the current challenges, we’re confident that educators would have found a way.

Real-time learning seems the best solution, as it enables teachers to take questions and make sure the students are engaged and understand the lectures, examples and assignments.

Its greatest limitation, however, is accessibility. Many families, especially in high-poverty areas like the Rio Grande Valley, still don’t have internet access. Some do their best by trying to connect through their mobile phones, but the challenge is still difficult to overcome.

Many districts have done their best to address the problem by issuing tablet computers to students and installing Wi-Fi transmitters on school buses that are placed throughout town. Even those efforts don’t reach all students, however, and many have taken to the streets in search of a signal through which they can connect with their classes. The problem reportedly is nationwide, with groups of children reported sitting on curbs near the Wi-Fi routing school buses or utilizing friendly neighborhood restaurants and other businesses that allow the students to use the company’s web service. Churches, Boys & Girls Clubs and community centers also have opened their doors to help students access their classes.

We applaud all those good neighbors who are helping to keep our children learning and developing during these challenging times. Their examples teach these students different kinds of lessons — how to be resilient and creative when difficulties arise, and how to be engaged, contributing members of our society. Such lessons are just as important as conjugating verbs and computing math equations.

Schools are expected to start offering in-class instruction in the next few weeks, although many families have expressed lingering concerns and intentions of keeping their students home for the foreseeable future. We don’t know what plans schools might have for continuing to provide remote instruction for those families, but we hope they continue to review the realities they face and continue to work toward providing the best learning resources possible to benefit our students.

In the meantime, community leaders should recognize that internet connectivity is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury even without remote learning, and endeavor to find ways to secure the service for everyone.