With coronavirus infections at record levels, some schools are once again shifting to remote classes.
Unlike when the pandemic hit Ohio in the spring, state-funded experts are ready to help students and school officials navigate problems with internet access.
The Connectivity Champions program launched last month and employs 19 experts around Ohio. Their job is straightforward: To help schools — public and private — and families connect students to the internet from home.
“We don’t wave a magic wand and say, ‘Here’s internet service for you,’” said program Joe Mancini. “We research, refer and do whatever we can to assist.”
That can mean helping a family find an internet service provider, setting up a hotspot or troubleshooting an internet connection. The program doesn’t fund internet access.
Mancini said the biggest problem, especially in rural parts of the state, has been the lack of internet access other than expensive satellite service.
Other common issues include data limits on mobile devices and financially distressed families who struggle to pay for internet service.
“With the uptick in COVID happening, we’re starting to see more districts go back to a hybrid (instruction) model or a full-remote model, so we’re reaching out to those districts to offer our assistance, also,” Mancini said.
The Connectivity Champions work for the Management Council, a not-for-profit organization that represents 18 Information Technology Centers serving more than 1.4 million students across Ohio.
The Connectivity Champions program is one part of RemotEDx, an initiative to enhance remote learning. RemotEDx is funded by $15 million in CARES Act money and is a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Education, the Management Council, Philanthropy Ohio, the Ohio Distance Learning Association, Ohio’s Educational Service Centers, INFOhio and Ohio’s Information Technology Centers.
RemotEDx follows the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity grant the state has given to more than 900 districts and schools to buy hotspots and internet-enabled devices.
Management Council CEO Geoff Andrews said Ohio’s schools are better prepared for remote learning than they were when in-person classes stopped in March.
“March 16 was our Apollo 13 moment,” Andrews said. “Nobody was ready for that, and everybody scrambled and did the best they could. But this fall, we had a little more warning, and we’re doing better. And that doesn’t mean we’re all fixed, but we are certainly doing better and this is one of the elements the state has put in place to try and help districts of all circumstances.”
Anjelica Talbott, 32, lives near Cincinnati and has a sixth-grader and a kindergartener in West Clermont Local Schools.
Earlier this week, a Connectivity Champion helped Talbott get a mobile hotspot free of charge.
Talbott said she doesn’t have the money to pay for internet service, and had to send her oldest son to his father’s home every day to use the internet after school buildings closed during the spring.
“Last (school) year, it was a struggle for a lot of the kids to complete their assignments due to no internet,” Talbott said. “It was very frustrating. It was very stressful. It was hard.”
This fall, her district recently went from five days a week of in-person instruction to four days. Talbott said she learned about Connectivity Champions through a district email, and then during a conference with her oldest child’s teacher.
“That’s a big game-changer for me,” Talbott said, after getting the hotspot. “The kids are able to stay home now on Mondays and do their school work.”
Reach Shane at [email protected]
On Twitter: @shooverREP
The program’s phone line, 844-K12-OHIO is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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