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Rural areas struggle getting kids connected for virtual learning

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 6:59 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - For many, getting set up with an internet connection is as simple as getting a router. But for some people living in rural parts of Georgia, it's not as easy.

Some families are too far away from cable lines, and too far for a good satellite signal to come through. Others have had to rely on satellite dishes, which can be costly.

That's all bad news especially for parents in Columbia County who just learned their students will be going to school online partially, starting next week.

“I’m a single mother, I can’t afford to do dish internet. They don’t offer anything else,” Penelope Smith, one Columbia County mom, explained. “Even when I looked into options for learn from home, there’s just nothing for us.”

Smith lives in Harlem, Georgia with her kids. She opted for her kids to attend face-to-face learning for a full five days a week. But she just learned on Monday that it was no longer an option. Now, she has to find a way to get her high schooler connected to the internet before Monday.

“So, he has to go to his dad’s for the day, learn from home, which is 30 minutes from my house,” Smith explained. “And then he has to go to school in our district every other day, so it’s just kind of chaotic and with two parents with full time jobs and other children.”

And she isn’t alone in this. According to the 2018 U.S. Census, nine percent of households in Columbia County didn’t have internet access. That number rises to 15 percent in Aiken County and 17 percent in Richmond County don’t either.

“A lot of my friends I grew up with live out this way and they have the same issue,” Smith said.

News 12 reached out to internet providers about what options Smith could have for her house. Only one provider can get her the dish she needs, and it would cost $449, out of pocket. That could be waived with a good line of credit.

Overall, for now, options for parents in her situation are limited.

“It’s just a struggle to get them to be library, and even with COVID-19 you can’t go to the library,” Smith said.

And for parents like her, the clock is ticking to come up with a plan.

“It just puts us in a situation we don’t want to be in, a bind that no one cares to be a part of,” she said.

Columbia, Richmond, and Aiken counties all say they’re offering laptops for families who need them. Aiken and Richmond County also say they’re providing hotspots for families who need internet, but Columbia County does not have the same option for their parents.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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