While rural districts faced many uphill battles during spring closures — including connectivity issues, difficulty maintaining relationships with impoverished students whose parents were working, and delivering meals to families who didn’t have transportation to meal sites — many say the sense of community fostered in small towns worked in their favor.

When Umatilla scraped its hybrid learning plan just weeks before reopening on Aug. 24, Superintendent Heidi Sipe said its size (about 1,400 students) and flexibility helped it swiftly pivot to remote learning. “It’s the beauty of being in a smaller area,” Sipe said.

But seven months into the pandemic, rural, low-income school districts continue to struggle with internet connectivity, large geographic regions, low funding and all the things that challenged them before the health crisis — and now a lot more.

Rural towns — especially those with large low-income populations — were hit particularly hard by the rush to distance learning in the spring. According to a Pew Research Center survey released in March, rural students were among the least likely to use the internet for homework every day.

The Pew survey showed 65% of students attending suburban schools used the internet for homework every day or almost every day, compared with 58% in cities, 50% in rural areas and 44% in towns.

Access to computers and the internet is a growing challenge for low-income rural students. “The technology divide for kids that are in homes of poverty is real,” said Kyle Sipe, instructional coach for Umatilla and Heidi Sipe's spouse.

Read the full article about recovery for rural districts by Naaz Modan at Education Dive.