This post is sponsored by AT&T.
On our kitchen counter sits a black metal box, an index card with “2020” written in black marker taped to the front of it. It’s our “2020 box”—the place where we tuck away this year’s problems and meltdowns that need a place to go. It started as a way to comically commemorate all the crazy things that have happened this year, but it’s actually become a therapeutic way for our family to vent. The blender broke? Write it down and shove it in the box. Trip got canceled? Scribble it on a scrap of paper and in it goes. Our most recent addition to the box—“The Internet glitched out as Lainey was completing her science fair PowerPoint that she forgot to save.” It warranted a meltdown of epic proportions, but we could all relate—we’ve been there. Nothing’s worse than technology challenges during times of stress, and most of us can remember a time when we’ve experienced it. “We’ll just have to start over,” I told Lainey, “Write it down. Put it in the 2020 box.”
Our technology challenges during times of stress are nothing compared to the challenges nearly 17 million children in the U.S. have experienced this year, and it’s a problem not easily fixed with a scrap of paper tossed into a black box. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced more than 50 million U.S. students to learn from home, and yet nearly 17 million children are unable to take part because their families don’t have an internet connection or device to support digital learning. This problem is called the Homework Gap, and it’s one of the many issues AT&T is committing to help solve.
We are so fortunate to have two of our three kids at home experiencing in-person learning now (Lainey’s been learning from home since school started but went back today for her first day of in person learning since last March!), but we’ve definitely had a fair share of technology frustrations this year.
Enter Exhibit A: The First Three Weeks of School. If you’ll recall, I went into virtual learning at the beginning of the year with Richard Simmons gusto. New workspace! A chalkboard! A game plan that was admittedly overly optimistic.
…and it was hard. Very hard—and that’s coming from a former teacher! I’m grateful we had the opportunity to safely send our kids back, but I feel for those families who don’t and for the teachers who are trying to serve them (300,000 to 400,000 K-12 teachers live in households without adequate internet connectivity or home computing devices—roughly 10 percent of all public school teachers). Virtual learning was especially challenging for Nella who benefits from so many disability supports at school. The homework gap disproportionately impacts students with disabilities as well as children of color and students in rural and under-resourced neighborhoods. That homework gap? Its impact on our sweet babies with special needs is monumental.
Of all the photos, memes and stories that have been shared this year, how many of us will never forget the photo of the children sitting on the stoop outside a fast food restaurant, hovered over a laptop, attempting to connect to their classroom with the restaurant’s WiFi because they couldn’t access it at home? And here I was frustrated over temporary connectivity glitches or days when when our district sent e-mails that their virtual classroom program was down for the day.
And our teachers? Bless them. May they all get straight passes to heaven for the way they served us this year and the challenges they’ve dealt with. If there’s one little silver lining to our experience with distance learning, it’s that we got to be flies on the walls of the classroom. There were several times this year I teared up pouring another cup of coffee in the kitchen while I listened in on the way the kids’ teachers were showing up on screens—their enthusiasm, their praise, their creativity, their attempt to make the kids feel like they were right there with them and that this wasn’t an awful year.
While I’m not teaching in the classroom anymore, I did teach a few online courses this summer, experiencing a tiny bit of the frustrations our teachers have felt. In the little town where we stayed in Northern Michigan, the WiFi connectivity is laughably weak. There were several times during a live Zoom call where I had to walk around the gardens, holding my laptop in front of me, searching for the magic pocket of connectivity that would unfreeze my face. And is there an unwritten rule that if your face freezes on a live call with multiple participants, it will freeze on the most unflattering angle?
Despite my live call freeze frames, I am a qualified teacher; I promise:
Our little stories and scraps of paper in the 2020 black box are hardly a representation of the real challenges schools, teachers and students have faced this year though. We are tired and frustrated, and we still have more than half of the school year to finish. And for many schools in the country, virtual learning is still the only option. We need technology, we need it to work, and we need more students and teachers to be able to access it.
That’s where AT&T comes in. They’ve already stepped up this year to offer exclusive savings on personal wireless service for teachers. Plus they’ve committed $10 million to support our nation’s most vulnerable students who don’t have adequate internet access, and they’ve partnered with Connected Nation to close the homework gap for struggling students by providing WiFi hotspots and free AT&T internet service. And now, to help close the gap and enable connected learning, AT&T is offering discounted wireless data plans 1 and content filtering options to more than 135,000 public and private K12 schools. 2
For every 24 student lines activated, schools can activate 1 teacher line with the same services at no cost. 3 Visit AT&T Connected Learning to learn more about the homework gap and AT&T’s limited time offer.
To all our hardworking teachers and assistants showing up in unimaginable ways this year…thank you. We promise not to screen shot your unflattering screen freezes.
Now, what to do with our black box at the end of the year. Any suggestions?
1 After 50GB of data use on a line, AT&T may temporarily slow data speeds if the network is busy.
2 Offer ends 1/22/21. Req’s new line on Special DataConnect for Education plan ($14/mo. after credits) w/ Enterprise Traffic Protector service ($1/mo.) or AccessMyLAN ($6/mo. after credits) and elig. data-only device. If data svc cancelled, data plan credits stop. Credits otherwise cease 12/29/22. Other fees, taxes, and charges & restrictions apply. See offer details.
3 Based on the average class size of 1 teacher to 24 students, schools will get one free (after bill credits) qualified line for a teacher for every 24 lines for students that are migrated to or activated on the qualified services. Taxes and fees are extra.