Technology vital as most Richmond County school students opt to learn from home


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – One of the the largest school districts in the CSRA will teach more than half of its students at home amid the pandemic. So we spoke with the Richmond County School System leader tasked with getting those families connected.

Virtual learning this year comes at no surprise to school districts. But Richmond County planned for a little less than 65 percent of its student population taking part.

Associate Superintendent for Academic Services Malinda Cobb said, “We surveyed our parents up front. Approximately a third of the surveys said they are going to do it, so we expected 10. As it started to creep toward 12 we got a little anxious.”

The assumption a few months ago among district leaders was virtual learning would be based on about 10,000 parents filling out the survey and choosing the option to keep their kids at home for the year. But as COVID numbers rose, so did the number of parents choosing the learn from home option. Currently, 18,644 students will be learning virtually by choice.

“Our K-8 students receive two hours of synchronous instruction everyday,” Cobb said adding that the students would learn from 9-11 a.m. or 1-3 p.m. “They will hop on a Zoom or a Teams call just like you and I are doing right now.”

Cobb added the rest of the day for those students will look something like homework time, independent work with teacher recordings for example.

High school students follow the same schedule as their peers in class.

She told us, “A teacher could teach first period face to face, second period online, third period face to face. It can alternate.”

For some families, technology can be an issue. But the district plans to distribute 11,000 laptops and 4,000 wireless connectivity devices.

And for parents with their own computers who have a need for accessibility, Cobb said Comcast, AT&T and Everyoneon offers affordable internet, low cost computers and free classes and online tutorials.

“We have now outfitted each of our schools to be a local hotspot. So, you can actually pull up into a parking lot and receive a WiFi signal,” she said. “[We] Expect to receive a grant to put 14 buses with connectivity that we would drive to neighborhoods that we know do have connectivity and they will come in on a schedule so that the students could walk over to the bus, not get on the bus, but walk up to the bus and have service.”

We wanted to find out if money was not an option, how many more devices would be needed for students to learn at home. Cobb said 1800 laptops and about 400 hotspots.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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