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SD Not Immune to Distance-Learning Disparities

Education experts say the learning inequities made worse by the pandemic could persist into the next couple of school years. (Adobe Stock)
Education experts say the learning inequities made worse by the pandemic could persist into the next couple of school years. (Adobe Stock)
April 27, 2020

STURGIS, S.D. -- Concerns over distance learning gaps have popped up with schools around the country shut down in the pandemic, and those concerns also are being raised in South Dakota.

Challenges in the Mount Rushmore State are similar to those in other states: lack of broadband internet access in rural areas, low-income families unable to afford technology, and parents who aren't able to work from home. Carol Waider, a second-grade teacher in Sturgis, said she has one student with several siblings who all have to share one laptop.

"So, they're rotating the time on this laptop from school, which thank goodness they have the laptop from school - because without that, you know, they'd have nothing," Waider said.

Waider said some rural teachers are at a disadvantage, too, since broadband gaps prevent them from having virtual meet-ups with students. She said teachers are doing everything they can to reach these families, even if it means relying on cell phones and taking on extra expenses with data usage.

The South Dakota Department of Education has said gaps in learning are fully expected, and discussions are underway on how best to help kids get caught up in the next school year.

Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association, said she agrees learning gaps will be exacerbated by the crisis. She said this will be a learning experience for all stakeholders.

"It's going to be really important for administrators and teachers, for the community, to really be supportive and to do everything that they can do to work towards equity and to fill in those gaps," McCorkle said.

For teachers like Carol Waider, the emotional impact of not being able to see this year's crop of students hit their stride together at the end of the year is huge.

"You know, you've been teaching them all year, you've been building that relationship. And April and May is when you become a family," Waider said. "And we just, we lost that."

Beyond the learning gaps, Waider said the emotional impact will likely be felt by these students throughout their academic careers.

Disclosure: South Dakota Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD