Photo courtesy Eatonville School District: This past summer, the Eatonville School District staff checked out technology devices for children to use during the school year and made sure they could connect to the internet in this contributed photo.
Photo courtesy Eatonville School District: This past summer, the Eatonville School District staff checked out technology devices for children to use during the school year and made sure they could connect to the internet in this contributed photo.

Remote learning creates many issues for families without home internet. School districts have had to find ways to support students and their families. Eatonville School District is no different.

Parent Amber Hansen explained the closure of Spring 2020 as “difficult to say the least.

“Being rural and very low income, I wasn't able to drive my child to internet,” Hansen said. “This made doing schoolwork almost impossible. The calls kept dropping, and the classes continued to freeze. Eatonville School District has supported my special needs child by offering to use district transportation to transport my child on campus as the district was unable to help us secure reliable internet due to our rural location.”

While interviewing a different parent who wished to remain anonymous, the types of challenges posed last spring when schools closed and learning converted to online, many struggles were expressed.

“In addition to a student needing access at home, we also had multiple adults within the household needing internet to work from home,” the parent said. “While one person — myself — frequently worked from home prior to COVID without issues, having everyone home plus everyone apparently on our street and in our area bogged down our home DSL to a point that it's like working with dial up at times. Videos can be glitchy, my daughter cannot upload videos to share with her teachers, online live classes freeze or drop all together. It definitely did pose issues and continues to, however I'd rather have her working remotely from home than going back to school until it's proven that schools can safely reopen without spreading the virus. Our family is in no hurry to return to the classroom.”

When asked how the district has provided assistance the parent explained, “Last spring, one of her teachers emailed worksheets to me, which I printed out for my daughter and then scanned back via email upon completion. This was a great work around, since it was too much for my daughter to complete and be able to upload back to her teacher using the Google platform or whatever it was at that time. The district recently provided us with a Verizon hotspot to try at home, but it is worse than our home DSL and is not usable. It dropped my daughter's connection in the middle of a test and is more frustrating for her than our home DSL, which is not surprising, as our Verizon cell service at home won't work to even place a call unless we are connected to our home internet. We have heard that T-Mobile may have a tower with better service in our area. We have a message into the district now to see if a T-Mobile hotspot is an option for us to try.”

Furthermore, learning this fall without the internet would be “nearly impossible,” the parent said.

“I think it would have to go back to the old-school way of having paper packets, and/or I've heard of other areas that are broadcasting classes over the TV with a dedicated station,” the parent said. “We all rely on the internet for so much anymore, that I think this has just proven that the infrastructure needs to be upgraded and reliable everywhere, regardless of location.”

The 2020-21 school year began quite differently for students attending the Eatonville School District. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the new school year started in a distance-learning model. In anticipation of a remote start, the district had to act fast to ensure students had a device and families had internet access.

During the summer, the district purchased enough Chromebook devices to become 1:1 for all of its preschool through 12th-grade students. The next hurdle to address was internet connectivity for families. The district launched a new email address, access@eatonvilleschools.org, to streamline all needs families have regarding internet issues. The requests ranged from poor connectivity with low bandwidth to not having any internet at all.

Out of the 45 families who submitted requests for assistance with connectivity, five of the families are identified as McKinney Vento.

Eatonville School District coordinated solutions with each individual family to address their needs. Because of funds received from the CARES Act, service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Centurylink were able to reduce costs for internet services and equipment. The districted utilized partnerships with these ISPs and connected families with these providers. In addition to the work done by these national providers, the Eatonville School District partnered with local provider Rainier Connect. The team at Rainier Connect has assisted multiple families by providing upgraded equipment and has even provided service at no cost to those families who are experiencing financial hardships at this time.

Finally, the district opened each of the five buildings to allow families the option to utilize the guest WiFi while adhering to social distancing and mask protocols. In total, 95 percent of the connectivity issues have been resolved. Through the efforts of our technology team, teachers and staff, the Eatonville School District students are connected and ready to learn.