Georgia Churches Help Bridge the Broadband Gap

Students from area schools do their work courtesy of the upgraded Wi-Fi at First Baptist Church of High Falls. FBCHF/Special

JACKSON — Harvey Ellis noticed the family with five school-age children in the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station on High Falls Road. It was mid-August and the Monroe County School System had delayed the start of in-person instruction three weeks due to COVID-19. In order to help students learning remotely, buses equipped with Wi-Fi had been dispatched throughout the area.

Ellis, chairman of deacons at nearby First Baptist Church of High Falls, had recently suggested to Pastor Scott Chewning and others the need to upgrade the Wi-Fi capabilities for such needs. Chuck Wheeler, another member with a technology background, agreed. The addition of another router would prove to be beneficial for the 15 middle and high school students who turned the church’s facilities into a temporary school for three weeks.

“The students were split among Monroe County Middle School and Mary Persons High School,” said Chewning. “We were concerned about the children in our community. We know many cannot afford the internet or simply don’t have access. Some can get it, but it lacks the quality needed for streaming.”

Helping connect the gap

A map by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs shows Monroe County to be among those lacking broadband access, with 52 percent of the area deemed “unserved.” To meet that need, Chewning credited other churches in joining the effort alongside First Baptist, such as Maynard Baptist and Pastor Matt Bishop.

The 2020 Broadband Report released Sept. 16 by the same department (Under “Resources”) pointed out the extent of the importance of internet access for students. Studies suggest that 70 percent of teachers give assignments to be completed online. Furthermore, 90 percent of high school students go online weekly to complete assignments.

However, up to 17 percent of students experience a lack of connectivity in completing their assignments, known as a “homework gap.” According to Pew Research, this gap is more pronounced among Black students and those from households making less than $30,000 a year. Hispanic teens report a higher rate of having to complete homework assignments on a cell phone.

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Source: Baptist Press