COVID-19 resources available for rural educators

School will look a lot different this fall.

In a few short months, schools across the country will once again be in session, but there will be noticeable changes since the last time students and teachers met face-to-face, because of COVID-19.

Transportation will be a major issue, and districts are currently working on plans for maintaining social distancing on school buses. If buses are normally full, how will social distancing be maintained? Additional buses and drivers are most likely not available, so it’s possible that multiple trips will need to be made to get everyone to and from school, resulting in increased costs for gas and driver pay. This could also cause scheduling issues for families with young children.

Once students are at school, how will social distancing be handled in the classroom and hallways, who will be required to wear masks, and how will extra cleaning protocols be handled? Some larger schools are considering a staggered schedule or having different grades attend in person on different days to avoid having everyone in the building at once. In many smaller high schools, however, freshmen through seniors are more likely to be in the same classes, so that model wouldn’t necessarily work for rural families. Again, alternating days could cause scheduling problems those with children in multiple grades, especially when an older sibling watches a younger one after school.

If in-person classes can’t safely be held in the fall, or if they need to temporarily be closed due to a positive case at the school, the issue of reliable high-speed internet will once again be an issue for many rural districts.

Finding answers

There are a lot of questions yet to be answered, and it can be difficult for parents and school administrators to know where to turn for reliable information when making decisions about going back to school safely.

Mara Tieken, an associate professor of education at Bates College and author of Why Rural Schools Matter, and the staff of the Harvard Education Redesign Lab aim to make it easier to find trustworthy information about rural education during a pandemic. They have created the Rural Community Resource Hub, a website informed by input from rural school administrators and other leaders. 

In addition to offering resources to help schools make informed decisions, the site includes a section for families and students. Topics include talking with children about COVID-19, keeping students engaged, how to choose a college with a virtual tour, tips for high schoolers, and more. It also includes ideas and resources that don’t require a high-speed internet connection and screen time.

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