As the new school year begins and students across the country adjust to the demands of distance learning, the inequities of broadband access resonate anew with low income families, many of whom lack internet access – or even a computer – at home. Local broadcasters, who keep communities informed and provide a lifeline during emergencies, have stepped up to help students continue their educations from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Stations nationwide have partnered with school districts to produce and broadcast academic lessons, ensuring that kids without broadband access don’t get left behind.
“Free broadcast television can help to fill the gap for those without access by providing a link to educational opportunities for all students, regardless of income,” said DuJuan McCoy, owner, president and CEO of Circle City Broadcasting.
Last spring, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Superintendent Aleesia Johnson called McCoy to say that she had about 10,000 students who didn’t have broadband access or were huddled on buses in hot spots with inconsistent transmission.
“My heart went out to those students,” said McCoy, a native of Indianapolis who attended elementary school in the district. “I knew that most if not all of them had access to TV, so I made the decision to produce and air two hours of academic lessons for IPS students in grades K-8 five days a week while the school system was closed.”
The lessons aired on MyINDY-TV 23 from 8-10 a.m. Monday-Friday beginning in late April and covered a variety of subjects including English, math, reading and emotional learning. The station filmed lessons daily with participating teachers and local celebrities and incorporated stock video tutorials to supplement and enhance teachers’ lessons. Circle City Broadcasting has extended the opportunity to IPS to partner again this fall and McCoy is committed to providing this critical resource to the community. “As a local broadcaster, I believe I have a fiduciary responsibility to answer the call when my community needs assistance,” he said.
“We are extremely grateful for our partnership with Circle City Broadcasting,” said Superintendent Johnson. “In a world where education cannot happen without the internet, we need a comprehensive community solution to provide reliable, affordable access to everyone. We must remove barriers to access for our students. Solutions exist if there is a will.”
Taria Slack, an IPS board commissioner whose children attend schools in the district, experienced first-hand the benefits of the on-air lessons. “As one of many busy parents juggling children’s remote learning and work obligations, I know the power of having highly engaging teachers being available to instruct my children,” she said. “Thanks to WNDY-TV, my children were able to get lessons from an IPS teacher; they didn’t worry about falling behind.”
According to Nielsen, the number of households that rely on an antenna to watch their televisions for free in the United States continues to rise, increasing nearly 14 percent from 2019 to 2020. Communities of color rely on free, local broadcast television and radio more than the general U.S. population.
Forty percent of African American households in the U.S. own a TV antenna and 33 percent report using that antenna on a weekly basis, while 44 percent of Hispanic households in the U.S. own a TV antenna and 34 percent report using that antenna on a weekly basis.
“Free over the air TV is in many cases the primary source of information and entertainment for homes that don’t have broadband access and communities that are underserved,” said McCoy, who believes there’s a longer-term prospect for broadcasters to play a broader role in education. “I believe Next Generation Television offers significant opportunities for how broadcasters can impact underserved communities. One of the benefits of Next Gen TV is the enhanced capabilities. One of those capabilities could be educational lessons for communities that lack access to broadband.”
Because Next Gen TV combines broadcast television with the technologies that power broadband Internet, it allows local stations to better personalize their broadcasts with information and interactive features to give viewers the content that is most relevant to them. McCoy says activating Next Gen TV technology in mobile devices would take things a step further by allowing broadcasters to provide lessons to students on the go.
Local stations across the country are also using their digital subchannels in their over-the-air broadcasts to help students continue their education from home. Meredith Corporation’s WALA in Mobile, Ala., partnered with the Mobile County Public School System and aired lessons live on FOX10’s digital subchannel 10.6, which was developed specifically for distance learning to accommodate students who may not have access to a computer or the internet.
Gray Television’s WMC in Memphis, Tenn., partnered with Shelby County Schools (SCS) to broadcast lessons from SCS teachers and accompanying digital resources on its multicast channel that carries Bounce TV.
Radio and television stations in South Carolina have also developed engaging educational content and resources to help bridge the gap for students learning from home. Union-Carolina Broadcasting Company, Inc.’s WBCU 103.5 FM partnered with the school district to record teachers, administrators and students reading their favorite stories and aired them each morning. Dick Broadcasting’s radio stations provided an extensive list of educational resources and activities and promoted them on-air, online and via social media.
Even as local stations navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic, they remain committed to supporting their communities, ensuring students continue to learn, discover and stay connected to their teachers and classmates. Learn more about how broadcasters support their communities at WeAreBroadcasters.com.