How a Local Teleco Helped Close the Homework Gap in their Community

When the pandemic sent K-12 students and teachers home in the spring, the team at Premier Communications knew they had to offer their support. Premier, a telecommunications company serving largely rural Northwest Iowa, has long-standing relationships with the approximately 30 schools and school districts in their territory. 

Scott Te Strote, their Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, is even on the school board at Sioux Center Community School District.

We love the schools in our service territories!” Scott says. “When you know your customers, it makes it personal. 

REACH OUT TO SCHOOLS

Premier acted quickly, strategizing as a team and then reaching out directly to schools to offer their support. Similar to student outreach, Scott recommends trying more than one method to connect with school leaders – especially during the pandemic when “no one knew which way was up.” 

In small districts like those that Premier serve – the largest has only about 1,500 students – data collection happens quickly. Scott says that in these small schools, counselors know who needs help and are quick to act. Privacy is an important consideration though, and one Premier worked closely with superintendents to manage. Once schools knew who needed to be served, Premier sent them a form to share with parents and guardians so that they could opt into being contacted. 

WORK THROUGH LOGISTICAL CHALLENGES

Premier knew there would be a few logistical challenges. For one, in March, the ground is frozen, which means they have to already service the area in order to get a household connected. And, of course, the pandemic meant that techs couldn’t go into homes to install service. 

To keep their techs and families safe, Premier came up with a plan to pre-assemble the hardware and walk families through the installation process. The techs went “above and beyond” to work with families. Ultimately, Premier was able to connect over 70 families – at no charge to them – to keep learning going in the spring. 

Gary McEldowney, Superintendent of Schools at Sioux Center Community School District, says that Premier was instrumental in getting students connected for online learning. Premier Communications has always been a strong advocate for education and providing opportunities for students. Premier Communications was very supportive in finding ways to assist our district and families during our challenge with COVID.” 

LOOK FORWARD

Premier is cognizant that it isn’t just the students who need reliable Internet access – it’s the teachers too. As Premier works to expand their fiber footprint, they’re prioritizing teachers’ homes first.  

While most students are back in school this fall, they have the option to continue remote learning and local leaders know that they might need to go remote again if COVID cases rise. Schools worked hard to prepare this summer and get ahead of the curve for fall, as did Premier. If students have to go back to remote learning, they’ve organized an Internet Essentials program that schools can take advantage of and use their CARES funding to provide low-cost service to families in need.  

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HOW ISPS CAN WORK WITH LOCAL SCHOOLS:

  1. Get organized. Premier took a day or two to plan it out, assessing the company’s capabilities. 
  2. Reach out – it’s the right to do. Scott says the schools were thrown into such disarray, so know that this is difficult for everyone and be patient as you work through the details.
  3. Get good info. Data collection, like everything, was more haphazard in the spring. In the summer, when they were less rushed, schools were able to collect and provide better quality data about connectivity needs. 
  4. Think about the teachers, not just the students. In rural areas, teachers often need access too. And to make it more affordable for them, Premier upgraded the Internet for teachers for two months at no additional cost.