DE GRAFF — The challenge of getting stable internet connectivity to rural communities is one Riverside Local Schools has risen to overcome since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“As soon as I heard about this project, I wanted to come visit. I wanted to see it, I wanted to learn more about it, and I wanted to see how it all came together because not only do I think it’s going to be a great benefit to this community, and these children and families, but the entire community can be a model to people around the state to use,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said at a press conference held at Riverside Local Schools Wednesday morning. “When you work together, you can accomplish a lot, and that’s what has happened here. You are blazing a trail that others can follow.”
Riverside Local Schools serves students living in DeGraff, Quincy and Logansville, and when the pandemic restrictions moved in-person instruction to remote learning, the issue of access to affordable, stable, high-speed internet within the surrounding rural community became apparent.
The solution came in the form of $170,000 from the BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, which allowed Riverside to set up hot spots and attenaes providing broadband access to 600 households at a cost of only $15 per month. Riverside Local Schools was able to partner with several entities, including PCs for People and OARnet, to turn their school into a hub for the community.
“I do hope that this is a blueprint for rural schools as they go forward, because I know in this community, the school is the hub. It’s where everybody comes to, it’s where everybody gathers. Our community has supported us, throughout all these years, and (we want) to go and give them something back,” Riverside Superintendent Scott Mann said.
Turning Riverside Local Schools into a hub for internet access has positively impacted the community as a whole, and especially the students. The March 2020 shutdowns that moved students to remote learning presented a rough set of challenges for Zane Rose, who is currently a senior at Riverside Local Schools, and lives in Quincy. While he had access to internet at the time, the connection speed was so slow that he couldn’t access Zoom classes, load emails, or upload assignments to send to his teachers.
“Last year my connection was so slow. I couldn’t email my teachers; it was so hard to load assignments in, and sometimes I’d have to call the school and ask the office to call the teacher. They’d write down the question I had, and the teacher would email me the answer,” Rose said. “This year, it’s quick. I’m actually able to ask questions and with the Zoom meeting calls, I’m actually able to see what’s going on the board and I’m able to hear my teacher and actually understand what’s being taught. It’s really helped me compared to last year, and I feel more confident.”
With the success of the broadband access being made available to 600 households in the rural areas surrounding Riverside Local Schools, there is hope on expanding access to more residents in the area if the funding were to become available. Husted said he hopes to not only see hub setups like the one at Riverside expand across the state, but nationwide as well.
“This is a model for Ohio on how rural communities can solve education issues, economic issues and community issues, by expanding the internet in a cost-effective way,” Husted said. “We’re going to try to spread this around the state, but I bet — you watch — you’re gonna see the rest of the county look at this model and go, hey, we gotta do what they’re doing here at Riverside.”
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org