Schools across Mississippi remain closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but many districts are now facing a dilemma -- how to provide remote learning to students in areas that lack internet service. MPB's Alexandra Watts reports.
It's quiet at Lucy Webb Elementary School in Greenville.
The school is open for two reasons this afternoon -- for students to pick up grab and go meals and for parents like Tewanda Williams to pick up printed packets for her three children.
“I’m coming to get their working packet," Williams said. "I guess it will last…’til what? April? They can still learn while they're out.'"
Last week, Governor Tate Reeves closed all public schools in the state to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
While schools are closed, classes are not canceled. Districts are now turning to online instruction to keep students engaged.
“We definitely have packets from pre-K to eighth grade," said Debra Dace, the interim superintendent of Greenville Public School District. "Our high school has done a little bit more in using the Google Classroom as well as technology as a whole.”
Distance learning can be problematic in rural areas where wifi and other technology is not readily available.
Right now, Dace said the district is surveying families on what internet access they have, so appropriate technology can be provided.
“Once we get that data and we know what families need the laptops or devices, we’re going to try and deploy those out within the next week or so," Dace said.
Educators across the Delta are making sure students get access to their lessons and teachers.
Tremain Johnson teaches the sixth grade in the Holmes County Consolidated School District. Every afternoon, Mr. Johnson connects with his students on Facebook Live.
It's like a regular day in the classroom -- Johnson greets students, asks questions and reminds them of upcoming tasks.
Many of the students have access to mobile devices, and Johnson said Facebook makes it easier to engage with his students.
“I talked to some of my parents, and they said Facebook was the easiest to access," Johnson said. "Lately, I do one lesson per day. I email them the packet before I go live…just like I’m teaching a regular class.”
Johnson can’t see the students while he’s teaching -- but he can see their comments and interactions.
“They’re really talking back, they’re really responding. I even get messages, ‘Slow down, you’re going too fast.’ So they're really listening and really trying to be interactive with me.”
Those who are streaming from a mobile device could incur expensive data charges, but Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is working to change that for students.
“I’ve called upon the carriers to do away with data caps during this period," Presley said. "So the students that have to live stream a session or a professor or teacher are able to do so without fear of some exuberant bill to come in.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 70 percent of Mississippians have broadband access. In rural areas, like the Mississippi Delta, only about half of residents have access to the internet.
Presley has asked T-Mobile and C Spire to help with internet access to families in North Mississippi, and so far, companies are agreeing to provide service.
“The Coronavirus has highlighted, really, this deep, deep digital divide that exists in Mississippi. And we’ve got to get it fixed," Presley said.
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According to Broadband Now, Mississippi ranks 42nd in the nation for internet coverage and speed.
Just last year, the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act was signed by former Governor Phil Bryant. The bill, which Presley supported, expands internet service in rural areas.
“Internet service is... a requirement in modern life — the same as electricity is," Presley said. "Imagine if right now, during this crisis, [if] we had areas that had electricity maybe an hour a day, maybe two hours a day. Think about that now in terms of internet service.”
But as communities figure out internet access, educators like Tremain Johnson remain dedicated to one thing -- making sure their students are learning.
“Students are just as nervous as we are, so I wanted to let our students now, ‘Hey, I’m still here for you. I’m still going to give you the best I have.’ We made a pledge we were going to do our best to be successful. So I wanted them to know that I am still going to do my part, and I know they are going to do their part as well.”