Working with local school districts, Polar Communications delivered broadband to North Dakota students in need during the COVID-19 pandemic
On August 26, 2007, an EF4 tornado tore through Northwood, North Dakota. The twister’s 150 mile-per-hour winds leveled the town, leaving one dead, eighteen injured, and an entire community in shock.
The next day, Northwood’s class of 2020 was scheduled to begin kindergarten.“The class of 2020 has been through quite a lot,” said Northwood Public School Superintendent Shane Azure. “The day before school started, they had to be relocated to various buildings around, from Hatton to Mayville State College. So it has always been different for this class.”
As it often does, tragedy brought the community together. Northwood rose from the rubble, with a brand-new $13 million dollar school as a symbol of the town’s resilience. But then, thirteen years later, another tragedy struck: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just weeks before their high school graduation, the class of 2020 was once again forced to relocate and finish the school year from their own homes. “As we were hearing things during COVID-19, we realized that the last 45 days of school were going to look a little bit different. We had high hopes that we would maybe be back in the last week or two of school, but that didn’t happen,” Shane said. “As of March 16th, we had 316 students, K-12, learning from home on a distance learning plan.”
THE GOAL: KEEP STUDENTS CONNECTED FOR REMOTE LEARNING
In the spring, districts across North Dakota rushed to come up with a plan. They needed to equip students with the resources and support necessary to access their education from home. One of the most important resources was high-speed, dependable broadband.
Our principals sent out a survey to parents to gather feedback and information about what they needed at home, whether it’s curriculum, textbooks, whatever it was,” Shane said. “In that survey, we found that we had eight to ten families that didn’t have broadband.
Shane knew that, without Internet access, students would not be able to connect to their teachers, assignments, or fellow students. Refusing to allow a single student to fall behind, Shane called Polar Communications—and he wasn’t the only one. “Superintendents started calling and saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to an online-based learning system, and we have students that don’t have internet access. What can we do to connect them?’” said Polar CEO Carl Blake. “As a local provider in our area, it was just something we needed to do.”
The first step was to determine how many students required a broadband connection. Working with local superintendents from 22 school districts, Polar identified 120 students across their service territory who did not have access to the connectivity they needed to attend school from home.
Identifying these students was the easy part; the question of actually getting broadband to them would prove to be much more complicated.
FINDING CREATIVE SOLUTIONS TO GET STUDENTS ONLINE DURING A PANDEMIC
During a typical home broadband installation, a Polar technician will bring fiber into the home, connect all necessary equipment, and answer any questions the customer may have. It is an entirely hands-off process for the customer; but when the coronavirus outbreak began, technicians were suddenly unable to enter customers’ houses.
In order to safely connect students to broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic, Polar’s technicians had to get creative—and the solution, according to Field Operations Supervisor Jim Praska, was broadband on a board. “We would pre-mount everything on a whiteboard—the ONT, the router, all the power cables—and we would drop it off at the customer’s house,” Jim explained. “The customer would grab it, plug it into a nearby outlet, and then we would go from outside with a fiber jumper. The customer would plug it in, and then they’d have service.”
Once the board had been taken inside by the customer, a technician would stand outside and communicate either over the phone or through a window to answer any questions and walk them through the installation process. The process required patience from both technicians and customers; but despite its challenges, Jim and his team worked tirelessly to provide every student the connectivity they needed to continue receiving a high-quality education from home.
In just a few short weeks, all 120 students were connected.
We knew how important it was to have broadband service for all students to be able to learn online, and we had the means and the talent to do it,” Jim said. “I don’t think there was any question about it, whether we’re going to do it or not. We just did it.
On June 19th, dressed in their caps and gowns, the class of 2020 crossed the stage of Northwood Public Schools’ auditorium. It may not have looked anything like they had expected, but with support from their peers, their teachers, and Polar broadband, the class of 2020 was able to finish their senior year strong. “This time during COVID-19 has been scary,” Shane said. “It was extremely important for us that all students had the same access to technology that they needed to continue their distance learning plan from home. It’s unchartered waters, and Polar stepped in and gave our students and parents a sense of peace of mind.”
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HOW TO WORK WITH YOUR LOCAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY:
- Build the relationship. Get to know the people at your local telecos, whether your school district uses their services or not. Polar reminds us that the children of their employees go to the schools in the areas they service – they care about the community because they’re part of the community.
- For schools that don’t have a lot of technical resources on staff, engage your local teleco to see if they can offer technical assistance.
- Remember: this is all new territory for everyone. Everyone is trying to get the best outcome possible – ISPs, school leaders, teachers, parents, students – so that students and their families can have the broadband they need for digital learning.
This story originally appeared on PolarComm.com. Updated and shared with permission from Polar.