Classroom Technology

Troubleshooting Tech Realities in Rural Schools

By Alyson Klein — January 14, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Remote school districts have some unique challenges, especially when it comes to technology. That’s something that Damon Hargraves, the director of federal programs for the Kodiak Island Borough school district, located on an island off the coast of Alaska, knows all too well. The district has about 2,200 students spread among four villages.

Internet connectivity and recruiting staff are big challenges. And so is trying to coordinate and learn from neighboring districts. But the district has been able to find creative ways to put technology to good use, including to create a welding certification program that relies heavily on distance learning.

Education Week chatted with Hargraves to talk about his work. What follows is an edited transcript.

Do most students in your district have internet connectivity at home? How does that affect teachers’ ability to assign certain kinds of homework?

Damon Hargraves

Students who live in the district’s main hub, the city of Kodiak, tend to have internet at home, even if it’s just on their phones, Hargraves said. That’s thanks in part to the fiber optics infrastructure on the island. At Kodiak High School, “it’s very easy for a teacher to give a homework assignment, say, ‘read this article in the New York Times’ and the student could access that and it’s no big deal,” Hargraves said. “In our rural schools, you couldn’t give that same assignment because many of our kids don’t have internet at home and the cellphone coverage is very, very slow and spotty at best.”

Does that lack of connectivity impede teaching and learning?

It can. “What it really means is it limits your options. As a teacher, you want to do this really, really cool thing. You’re hearing about others who are doing this really, really cool thing through PBS kids or the Smithsonian website. And kids just can’t access that content at home. We just work our way around it.”

What are you doing to prepare students for the workforce?

Hargraves is proud of the district’s ‘distance welding’ class. “This course is a good example of how we’ve been able to overcome some of our limitations,” he said. It’s been hard to find skilled welders—let alone welding teachers to offer the course in small sites, where only ten kids may be interested in the program. So the district has put out a broad net, Hargraves said.

“What we have done is we’ve been able to hire people from the community to come in to school even if they don’t have welding expertise, if they’re interested in learning right alongside the kids and if they can help us ensure safety at the local site,”

Then a distance welding teacher in the community’s largest hub, Kodiak City, can work with them on getting the skills they need to get different welding certifications. “So the model is work with local people in the village sites, have the expertise here in Kodiak City. Then, once or twice a year, we fly the kids into Kodiak High School and they are able to take their welding certificate test and get certified in different kinds of welding, Hargraves said.

And students with a welding certification will qualify for plenty of jobs in Kodiak. “It’s something that’s needed here. We have all of our boats. We have a massive fishing industry,” Hargraves said.

The district also has an auto-shop and has plans to start offering cosmetology certifications.

This interview is part of a series of Q&As with education technology district leaders. Got a story to tell about your district? Want to participate? Email aklein@educationweek.org.
A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as Troubleshooting Tech Realities in Rural Schools

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
What is it About Math? Making Math Figure-Out-Able
Join Pam Harris for an engaging session challenging how we approach math, resulting in real world math that is “figure-out-able” for anyone.
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology AI Is Common Thread Through the Big Challenges Schools Are Facing, New Report Says
Recruiting and retaining educators, cybersecurity, and scaling innovation across schools are some of the biggest challenges.
3 min read
School-aged boy using laptop in classroom.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Classroom Technology 8 Tips for Schools to Avoid Chaos in the Age of AI
Most district leaders are in the beginning stages of figuring out how to integrate AI into K-12 education.
6 min read
A group of researchers studies elements impacted by artificial intelligence
Kathleen Fu for Education Week
Classroom Technology What Is Age-Appropriate Use of AI? 4 Developmental Stages to Know About
Child development experts and teachers offer advice on when K-12 students should start using AI-powered tech and for what purposes.
11 min read
Elementary, Middle, and High-school age children interact with a giant artificial intelligence brain.
Kathleen Fu for Education Week
Classroom Technology New York City Schools Went Online Instead of Calling a Snow Day. It Didn't Go Well
The nation's largest school system attempted remote learning again since the pandemic, but got it interrupted by technical difficulties.
5 min read
A woman plays with a child who is sledding in New York's Central Park Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. Technology glitches kept many New York City teachers and students from virtual classes Tuesday—the first attempt by the country's largest school system to switch to remote learning for a snow storm since the COVID-19 pandemic.
A woman plays with a child who is sledding in New York's Central Park Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. Technology glitches kept many New York City teachers and students from virtual classes Tuesday—the first attempt by the country's largest school system to switch to remote learning for a snow storm since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frank Franklin II/AP