EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — The internet is essential for learning. When classroom lights went dark and school doors closed in March of last year, technology became the only way teachers and students could connect.
The transition from classroom to virtual school was made more difficult in some areas of Northeast Ohio where reliable internet was scarce.
Students in the East Cleveland City Schools are getting support now from a public-private partnership.
"The internet to me is important because nowadays you can get anything from the Internet," said Eddie Brent, who is a newly minted high school graduate. He received his diploma from Shaw High School two weeks ago.
"I mean, you feel good," Brent said about meeting the milestone. "I feel good to know, like, I'm done because when I came into school I wasn't, like, doing too good."
Brent was struggling in the transition to virtual learning. For him it was finding the concentration needed to do hours of schoolwork at home.
But, he had a motivator.
"I got my stuff together. I was more -- I can be focused on football that's what I like to do."
Brent was a running back on the Shaw High School team. He may have graduated in early May but he was still on the field days after crossing the stage.
Brent was selected to play in the East-West All-Star game.
The football goals Brent had propelled him to succeed in school. But he know not everyone at Shaw had the same chance at the good internet connection needed for a year of virtual schooling.
"Some of my friends, they play football and from them having no internet connection, their grades are slipping," he said. "So
they have to stop playing, get the grades and come back."
Finding reliable and affordable connection in East Cleveland is not a new issue but it does have some new attention thanks to a public-private partnership.
In early April 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was in the city announcing a pilot program for 1,000 homes.
The program, supported by private businesses and state and county monies, wants to bring $15 internet to more than 2,000 homes in the future. The program will offer up to 50 mega-bit per-second connection speeds.
For educators in East Cleveland City Schools, that access will create more opportunity.
"It's allowed our educators to not be afraid to go beyond the scope of education, to think of innovative strategies and ways to educate our students of today," said Thomas Coleman.
Coleman is a teacher at the high school and knows firsthand what students and families were dealing with when the pandemic forced school closures.
His team met with more than 200 families in the school during the year to make sure they had what they needed to make their students shine.
Overwhelmingly, Coleman said families were worried about their internet connections.
"Everything is online. Everything is online. I'll say it again, everything is online." There are towers going up all over the city, including several at East Cleveland City schools.
"The broadband is excellent," Coleman said. "We're not knocking our head against the wall anymore. We're utilizing it to the best of our ability. And our kids are learning at a quick rate."
For the 2021-2022 school year, students will be back in East Cleveland classrooms but there is still work to be done at home.
Coleman knows the internet connections established over the summer will help students while they work from home after school hours.
Brent is moving on to Eastern Michigan University, but he knows the impact reliable internet will have for students still learning at Shaw and in the district.
"Feel good, because now that we can just focus on doing work instead of worrying about the Wi-Fi hotspot, and that way we can just focus on doing the work and getting work done."