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Henderson County Teachers Face Broadband

Dual Language Learning in the Digital Divide

By Kevin McCall, UNCA Mass Communication Student

When the pandemic began, Bruce Drysdale Elementary, a Henderson County school with a dual-language program, followed protocols to aid students who did not have access to the internet from home.

Bruce Drysdale Principal Jason Joyce offers insight into the struggles of internet access during the pandemic.

“During COVID we actually provided hotspots for families that did not have internet at that time and because we were doing virtual for a good portion of that, we had the opportunity through funding to be able to offer hotspots and it allowed us to virtually teach our students,” said Jason Joyce, principal of Bruce Drysdale Elementary.

For Carrie Shaffer, the school’s counselor, this included offering discounted internet services to households with no internet access.

“I was able to call and get a list and provide a spreadsheet to the current superintendent of that school year so that they could reach out to those families and set that up,” Shaffer said.

Other than making sure every child received access to devices to connect to the internet, Shaffer said she facilitated home visits to make sure students could log into fully functioning devices.

“Parents would come in and get a little tutorial on how to log into anything that they needed to. The county offered some database internet services, a little hotspot, to families and made sure those were working and went to houses and got them hooked up so kids could use them,” Shaffer said.

Bruce Drysdale Music Teacher Carissa Mathis visited homes during the peak of the pandemic to help offer technological resources to families.

As Shaffer went door-to-door in each household, Music Teacher Carissa Mathis occasionally assisted and said communication served as an occasional problem.

“Their parents had no idea how to do any of the technology. They didn’t know how to speak English, so we had to make sure we translated it to them,” Mathis said. “It was kind of a big shock for me that it was such an issue because I come from a place of privilege that always had internet access.”

Mathis said a majority of the houses she visited during door-to-door checkups were predominantly Hispanic some of which required the children to translate for some parents.

“I think it’s really hard for them. Especially when you already have a problem with the language divide,” Mathis said.

Bruce Drysdale Media Coordinator facilitated families to sign up for internet access. 

Bruce Drysdale Media Coordinator Kelly Gromelski said the pandemic exposed the challenges of those with no internet access experience and shedded new light on the subject.

“I think it really brought it to the forefront,” she said. “During the height of it, when things were so bad, there were buses parked around the county that had hotspots basically so that students could have internet access in different areas,” Gromelski said.

For First Grade Dual Language Teacher Doris Rojas, the pandemic exposed the challenges students face, especially in a dual language learning environment.

“It was very hard when you have kids online and kids in the classroom trying to split your attention,” Rojas said. “Being able to asynchronously provide instruction was extremely difficult. I think it was a challenge that not all of us were up to.”

However, as students now return to in-person learning and COVID restrictions dial back, students can no longer access the hotspots initially given to them at home which 2nd Grade Teacher Laura Sallade said can lead to issues in student performance.

“It’s not only limiting them with their work, but it’s also limiting them with their research that goes into the work,” Sallade said. “I think that they are at a lower advantage than other students, so it automatically puts them behind because they just don’t have the access.”

Sallade said students without internet access remain at a lower advantage than other students who can access the internet at home due to the lack of resources needed for homework activities.

“I have tons of kids who say, ‘I can’t do my reading logs, I don’t have any books,’ and I literally have to find books to send home to them to read,” Sallade said. “If they can go on the internet and read books through the website, they would have unlimited books to read. So they’re just not getting that practice there.”

Due to lack of internet at home, Gromelski said families may find other ways to access the internet by going to different places throughout Hendersonville.

“Some people may go to the library or go to different fast food places or coffee shops that have internet because there are so many places that have it, but I know that’s hard to do,” Gromelski said.

According to Rojas, lack of internet access stems from financial instability, especially in rural areas.

“They have to make really tough financial choices and the internet is not on the top of that list. It’s clothes, food, and other things. I think though that parents now realize how important internet is to the educational process,” Rojas said.

Joyce said for some low-income families, the internet does not provide the necessities needed such as gas, rent and mortgage.

“The internet is not a necessity for those things, so many times families have to prioritize where they have to spend their money and, again, the internet isn’t a particular priority in that case,” Joyce said.

While some families lack internet access, Rojas said broadband should be treated as a public utility provided to communities equitably which can benefit children’s learning environment.

“It’s like healthcare. I think with everything, there’s pros and cons. I think the internet connects us to family, to friends and to different parts of the world. We get to learn in the world,” Rojas said. “There are kids who are there who really would love to learn something else and the internet provides that opportunity.”

Opinions and statements are not necessarily the views of WNC Broadband or the University of North Carolina at Asheville.