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Martinsville Schools are 100% remote but students are only 40% connected

Martinsville Schools are 100% remote but students are only 40% connected

From the Martinsville-region COVID-19/coronavirus daily update from state, nation and world: Aug. 13 series
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The critical element of remote learning is internet access. While rural areas often have a lack of service issues, Martinsville has its own robust fiber system. Yet, 40% of the students in the Martinsville school system report they do not have internet availability where they live.

That’s the statistic School Superintendent Zebedee Talley updated city council with at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

“Internet usage is going to increase in this area,” Talley said. The students “use jump drives, Mi-Fi and other equipment including paper-packets.

“Some have internet, some don’t, but all will have technology.”

Options for city students include learning via computer both online and offline, but learning live and in real time requires an internet connection.

Ideally, a student will have internet service at home or is able to locate near a hotspot. A Mi-Fi device would allow the student to create their own hotspot wherever there is a cell signal and can provide a temporary connection.

During the pandemic, Comcast has been offering internet service to qualifying households for less than $10 a month, but Talley says the parents of some students are unable to afford it.

“We have homeless students and we work with them,” said Talley.

City Manager Leon Towarnicki said he has spoken with Telecommunications Director Mick Scaffidi about ways to solve connectivity problems with MiNet, the city’s fiber system.

“We will be working to find where the needs are and how we can plug in,” said Towarnicki.

Said Talley: “We as a community need to make ready for everyone to have internet because it’s the way of the future.”

Talley was slated for speak for 20 minutes to council about the reopening of city schools, but members peppered him with questions and 40 minutes later he was still answering them.

“It’s a dramatic change,” said Talley. “The safest way for students, families and teachers was to start virtual.

“It was a tough decision, in-person is always better, but young people are going to have to get acclimated.”

Talley described the first day of virtual school as “hectic — just crazy.” Helplines were created for each school in the district and by the second day Talley doubled the number of people assigned to answer the phones.

“We’re teaching, feeding … doing everything but personal contact right now,” said Talley. “We don’t want to do anything to go backwards.”

Talley said the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of some students while others have experienced the loss of someone close due to COVID-19.

“We’ll deal with the mental aspect,” said Talley. “When you build relationships you don’t have a problem with learning.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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