Emily Hildebrand

(Rock Hill, S.C.) – While many South Carolina families without internet access are making adjustments to keep their kids in school, the Rock Hill School District is also making changes to provide internet access to all its students.

Rock Hill students currently have two options during the global pandemic: Either they attend hybrid classes or the new Virtual Academy that the Rock Hill School District has put in place.

However, both options require internet access outside of school.

Students this year will need the internet and will need it “hardcore,” said Laura Smith, a fifth grade teacher at Oakdale Elementary School in Rock Hill.

To help meet the needs of those without internet access, the school district will be providing those in need with either wired access through Comporium or with hot spot access via T-Mobile.

The wired access is reserved for families the school district is aware of that have not had service with Comporium previously.

“We started off with a list of families that we felt like can focus on, that did not have service with Comporium. So we reached out to them and it’s been a communication back and forth between the families and between the school district and Comporium,” said Tennille Wallace, the executive director of technology services for the Rock Hill School District.

However, in some cases, people have had recent changes to their situations, Wallace said.

“For some of our families, that might’ve caused their internet service to be discontinued recently, so in those situations we have been able to provide hot spot access to families,” said Wallace.

The hot spot access provided by the school district requires families to apply. Thus, Wallace created an online application that families can fill out virtually on the Rock Hill School District website.

“Right now, we have had over 200 applications for hot spots and we are reviewing those as quickly as we can,” Wallace said.

Hot spot access is provided for both Virtual Academy students and hybrid students who attend school in person on a rotating schedule.

“We have right at 7,000 students at Rock Hill School’s Virtual Academy,” Wallace said.

“For those families, we know that we need to provide access for them, because they are reliant on that virtual access for their education,” she said. “While many of the folks that are requesting hot spot access attend the virtual academy.”

However, Wallace said, some students do attend hybrid classes, but they still don’t have internet access.

“The hotspots allow for us to meet the needs of all of our students, no matter the circumstance,” she said.

However, Laura Smith, who teaches her fifth grade class at Oakdale Elementary in the hybrid format, said she hasn’t seen many issues with internet access so far this year.

“Out of the few students I have, those parents knew what they were getting into when they signed their kids up for hybrid. So they knew they were going to need the computers at home on virtual days, so they do have the internet,” Smith said. “But that does not mean the whole school does.”

Everyone is a little more prepared this time, Smith said, compared to the spring when classes were suddenly moved online due to the pandemic.

“These same students, last semester may not have had the internet. They just knew what they were getting into this go round,” Smith said.

Additionally, she said she has noticed that some of her students attend childcare on their days at home, in order to get reliable internet access, as well as have someone to make sure they get their homework done.

One of those places is the Bethesda Child Development Center located at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in McConnells

Along with younger students, Bethesda is taking care of “after-schoolers, students from public school,” said Esther Bailey, a worker at the Bethesda Child Development Center.

“We have two teachers that help out. They just make sure the kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. If they have questions the teachers try to help the best they can,” Bailey said.

Even though the current learning landscape is unique, it appears Rock Hill families and the school district are finding ways to make it work.