School districts grapple with at-home learning, internet shortages

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas families are now adjusting to the new reality of trying to work and learn from home.

Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that all school campuses across the state will remain closed until at least May 4, a decision affecting millions.

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KXAN started receiving tips about struggles these people are facing right now. For some families, even getting access to the curriculum has been hard.

Del Valle ISD administration learned there are pockets of the town that simply don’t have stable internet access. Around 30% of the families in the district are dealing with this, Superintendent Annette Tielle said.

“I’ve done everything I possibly can to help them with their work, but it’s just so stressful,” said mother of three, Amanda Vallejo.

Vallejo said when she is managing her full time job and her three children are also on her personal hot-spot, it can take up to an hour and a half to complete an assignment.

For Vallejo and many other families, it’s not an issue of affordability, but rather where they choose to live.

“I have a very good income, me and my husband both work, we are full time employees. Just the internet service won’t come out here. I have a hot-spot on my phone. But now that I have all my kids here with their school work, it’s not a stable connection for them to to their work on.”

Third grade teacher Heather Cheuka said she is proud of the work the Del Valle Independent School District has accomplished to prepare for the possibility of a long-term closure. She, along with many other teachers at Del Valle ISD, embedded programs like Google Platforms into her curriculum before spring break began.

But she said she feels helpless for the students who are struggling to obtain the material due to poor connectivity.

“One hot-spot doesn’t cut it for three kids who are trying to do distance learning and a parent that’s also trying to work full time,” Cheuka said.

Tielle said her team has been working to solve the problem for awhile.

Additional school-owned hot-spots have been given out to families on a first-come, first-serve basis. They had to request one in order to be added to the queue to obtain one, Tielle said.

For the remainder of the families that are still using their own personal hot-spots, the district has purchased 300 more which will be dispersed over the next few weeks. Those families have also been given paper packets to complete in the meantime.

“Access to education is important for all students and Del Valle ISD is committed to getting learning to all students,” Tielle said. “This has definitely been a challenge for our school district and many other school districts.”

Online Learning at Other Districts

In the Austin Independent School District, 8th through 12th graders are using Chromebooks. More than 5,000 students have hot-spots, with almost 1,500 on the way.

AISD is also installing WiFi on school buses that will be strategically parked in neighborhoods with problematic internet access.

Pflugerville ISD has been testing new online platforms for the past two weeks. The district ordered 100 hot-spots for families in need. They’re also putting pick-up lesson packets in newspaper stands across town.

Round Rock ISD developed an at-home curriculum that doesn’t require internet access and Leander ISD plans to roll out their brand new curriculum on Wednesday which will launch on Monday.

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