The population centers up in the Adirondack Mountains don’t feel like towns, at least not to me. It feels more like the houses had been shaken out of the mountains like crumbs off a tablecloth, landed haphazardly in the valleys, and were then inhabited by people with the fortitude to build homes amid the area’s beauty. Having lived in upstate New York for nearly my entire life, I am familiar with the Adirondack Mountains, and I love them dearly.
But only occasionally does it dawn on me how different daily reality is there versus where I grew up, in suburban Albany. Cell phone signals are hard to come by up in the Adirondacks. A trip to the grocery store could mean a 40 minute car trip – one way. School districts are spread over very wide distances, and although they comprise kids from numerous towns and villages, class sizes sometimes don’t reach above single digits. It’s a different way of life, certainly.
During a recent road trip through the Adirondacks, I happened to pass through a town where a friend teaches high school English. I had known he worked in a rural area, but I was nonetheless struck by the remoteness of the school location. My friend faced a rough, long commute each day – and so did his students. Many students lived a long ride away from the school, braving often-snowy conditions and questionable mountain road maintenance. It is a trek to get to school. To get anywhere, really. A student who has to drive one hour to reach a bookstore, theater, or library has limited options when it comes to resources with which to supplement their education. With few classmates, after school activities and other enriching extras enjoyed by peers in more populated areas may also be denied these students. It’s a beautiful area, but not one without problems, especially if you’re a young person in a town without much going on.
Schools in settings such as this could benefit considerably from the implementation of digital educational technologies such as those offered by Genius Plaza in their classroom or in an after-school setting. It is a way to access materials to supplement classroom activities and projects, and maybe delve into new subject matter in which the student has an interest. Additionally, for students who don’t have reliable internet service at home, the online resource available at school might be one of the only ways in which a student can gain valuable digital knowledge and experience. And of course, the more tools with which students can learn, and engage with technology, the better.
In addition to helping students better understand their official lessons and hone their core skills, digital educational technologies can also be a lifeline for students who crave additional stimulation and engagement, or those who simply feel more comfortable in front of a screen than engaging out loud in a classroom.
Many times, digital technology is written off as fluff – as something that is nice to have, but is not a vital educational resource. But students who lack resources in their communities, due to a rural location or an underfunded school, might not even know what they are missing. The happenstance of their location should never hinder a student’s ability to achieve their highest potential. The internet has the power to connect students to the world. We cannot choose where were are born in this world, but we can have a say in where we end up – and proper tools can help. All students deserve that chance.