For the last week, my son is attending school virtually. Like a good parent, I decided that it would be better for Donovan if he worked from the office with me. Surely with no TV or video games to distract us, we could apply ourselves to the work at hand. Of course, this also means that we have to be in place, online, and ready to learn by 8:15 am. My reaction was, “We got this.” He can come to the office with me, affording me the ability to keep tabs on him and make sure he stays on task.

You see, I keep a backup laptop at work, just in case my primary unit becomes a problem. It already had Zoom on it, so I surmised this unit would be plug and play. I.Was.So.Wrong! There was a glitch with the computer’s webcam following a recent Microsoft update that prevented us from opening the video feed on Zoom. The school’s position was quite plain; an operational video feed was mandatory for attendance.  Today, a full week later (after a couple of frustrating hours-long sessions with Dell and Microsoft), I finally repaired the webcam on the first machine. Honestly, I still do not know what I did that finally fixed it, outside of sheer force of will.

 The first computer being out of commission just meant pulling another backup out of mothballs. To my chagrin, Donovan had loaded several free games onto that unit over the summer before tossing it aside for the PS4. In case you young people reading this did not know, free is never actually free. So-called free games are one of the most common sources of computer viruses known to man. That computer required a two-hour tech session to uninstall a dozen hostile programs. Donovan lost his administrative privileges, but he now has access to two fully functional, identical laptops. Both of which have the requisite accounts, credentials, and software installed.

Given the level of support I have just described, you would think we have it together now. It might surprise you to know that Donovan has still managed to miss a couple of Zoom meetings, a quiz or two, and thanks to a dental appointment today, a test. With all of the technical wizardry associated with navigating multiple platforms (Zoom and Rediker), there is still a good deal of challenge for even a tech-savvy 9th grader, with a tech-savvy parent offering support.

Yesterday I read an article that stated that there is a nationwide shortage of laptops right now. Many forward-thinking school systems placed large orders with key manufacturers in anticipation of needing to support virtual learning this term. Yet multinational companies such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo are all finding themselves unable to meet the demand because of a critical shortage of components usually outsourced from China.

Statewide, many parents and students are choosing virtual learning options. In more affluent urban settings with multiple broadband providers, internet access is not an issue. Larger school systems routinely use devices like Chromebooks instead of textbooks. In these settings, students and instructors regularly use technology within the parameters of the classroom.

The delta region presents an entirely different set of circumstances. Thinning population and widespread economic challenges are not conducive to attracting internet providers willing to expand services. Even the use of mobile hotspots requires a good cellular signal to have dependable connectivity. How will kids get the technical support they need if parents or extended families are not able to help? What about working parents who have to keep food on the table and a roof over their family’s head? There is much to be considered as we navigate the educational landscape this school year. If it is in your power, consider supporting a student who might need extra help.

Teachers, students, parents, and administrators are facing challenges that no one has ever faced before. Everyone is doing their best because we all know what is at stake. Education is foundational to a child’s future. So when you see a teacher, administrator, or board member of one of our local schools out in the community, please offer a word of thanks. Pray for them, and above all, understand that they are doing their best to provide our kids with the best educational experience possible. As a parent, I want to pledge to do my part (and try not to whine about it too much). I am humbled and grateful for the resources and skills with which to meet the challenge.

                                                                                                                                                                                   
Pastor Kenny