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Science and Innovations

Online Classes Pose Challenges For Native American Students Living On Reservations

(David McNew/Getty Images)

Students in the Flagstaff Unified School District are doing their coursework entirely online at least through October 9th because of the pandemic. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, that’s been a challenge for Native American students who live on reservations with unreliable or nonexistent Internet access.

FUSD purchased iPads for every student as well as seven hundred Verizon hotspots for families struggling with Internet access at a cost of more than five million dollars. But some students are still on the waiting list for a hotspot, while others report connectivity issues or running out of data.

Dianne Lomahaftewa-Albert, the district’s Native American supervisor, says, "They are definitely feeling that frustration… and we all know that because of those remote areas, and even when you’re in a city, there are some areas that aren’t going to have that connection."

Students and their families have been driving to school buildings, chapter houses or other public places to connect to free, secure WiFi from their cars. Darrell Marks, the Native American academic advisor at Flagstaff High School, says others have resorted to using their personal cell phones. He says, "I’ve heard from some students that they’re having to get jobs in order to pay for their cell phone plans now, just so they can attend school." 

Marks says Internet access is just one challenge Native students face. They’re also at disproportionately high risk for COVID-19 and for the financial hardship caused by the pandemic.

See a map of wireless access locations for FUSD students:

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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