Bridging the technology gap to keep learning alive

A California school district worked hard to bring the classroom into more homes

As public schools shifted to online lessons to keep students and teachers safe during the pandemic, some communities found themselves at a disadvantage: Not all families could afford the devices and internet access that make distance learning possible.

In the above video, Wajeha Chaudhry, a third-grade teacher in Kern County, California’s Loudon Elementary School, talks about the impact the physical separation had on students, how educators adjusted and what the online connection to classmates, friends and school staff meant for the students.

When the Kern County Superintendent of Schools made the shift to distance learning in March 2020, technology was a major concern. “We turned our attention completely, on a 24/7 basis, to reinventing education, and we were able to reimagine it in about a two-week period,” says Kern County Superintendent of Schools Mary Barlow.

Nearly a third of the 192,000 K through 12 students enrolled in its 47 districts live below the poverty line; 71% are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. By quickly surveying the students, the district learned that four in 10 had no access to an electronic device or internet connectivity.

That’s when Barlow got to work. In addition to developing a distance learning curriculum and training teachers, Barlow took on the county’s technology gap, securing and distributing 21,000 free Chromebooks. Plus, the district ensured that all families had internet access by deploying buses outfitted with internet connectivity to local neighborhoods, activating free Wi-fi at schools and other public sites and establishing 5,000 internet hotspots.

For students, the new technology was a “learning lifeline,” Barlow says, “It’s a connection to their friends and to their teacher, who cares very much about them.” Teachers and school staff, who had missed connecting with students and their families, were thrilled too.

Bank of America is supporting the Kern County Superintendent of Schools with a $75,000 donation, part of a $100 million grant program in support of local communities, which is in addition to the $250 million in philanthropy the bank gives annually.

Learn about the various ways Bank of America is helping local communities adapt to and recover from the coronavirus here.

Originally published 6/22/20