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Digital Divide: Rural educators face additional obstacles

When Minnesota classrooms moved online, a Pine City High School teacher knew he'd have to go the extra mile to keep students connected.

MINNEAPOLIS — Students and educators are logging into virtual classrooms statewide this morning, but for some, getting a good connection can be a challenge. COVID-19 restrictions are affecting everyone, but for those in rural communities, getting online can be even more frustrating. 

Ryan Larson teaches grades 8-12 at Pine City High School. “I don’t know if I would say a full "divide," but I definitely think it’s more challenging for students that don’t have that good solid, consistent access," he said.

In urban areas it’s easy to take connectivity for granted. In rural counties, reliable high-speed internet is hit or miss. 

The school district made it a priority to provide wifi hotspots to students with spotty internet service, but Ryan said the system isn't perfect. “It does get challenging when you have families that got multiple students needing to use the same hotspots, sometimes the connectivity really suffers.”

The daily interruptions can add up, frustrating students and interfering with the natural learning process. “It just kind of got to the point…you just knew which students were going to have difficulty. And they just knew if they weren’t able to hear, they’d just log out and they’d log back," said Ryan.

To bridge the gap between those with resources and those without, Ryan often reaches out to families by phone to let them know he’s available if their child needs help with the day's lessons. That connection helps both students and teachers. “I think for me as a teacher, I get that connection with the student and I think for the student they just don’t feel like they’re left alone to flounder, so that’s been a real positive thing," he said.