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Clayton County community bridging the digital divide, making ends meet for student's households

Virtual learning can be a challenging transition for schools in low-income communities working to bridge the gap.

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — North Clayton Middle School is finding ways to make ends meet, as school officials try to give children the best learning experience possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a family and as a community, it’s up to us to take care of each other,” principal Shakira Rice said.

Rice said the virtual experience for he school is incorporating social media and the Bitmoji app to create a digital classroom that makes learning exciting and engaging.

Seventh grade student Joshua told 11Alive that’s exactly what it achieves.

“I know that we’re all together and we’re all learning the same way. And really, there’s no difference to me. We’re all family,” he said.

North Clayton Middle is a family that was forced to create community from a distance, like most schools nationwide. Principal Rice said the last time students were physically at school was March 13, almost five months ago.

“That time taught us a lot about equity and access for our community,” Rice said.

Equity and access in Clayton County has always been a top priority for a vulnerable community that was already facing many battles before the pandemic - like food deserts and lack of resources in the county.

“It is one of the most impoverished zip codes in the entire metro Atlanta," Rice explained. 

"It can be challenging for some of our parents," she added. "Because of that, many of our parents may have to work multiple jobs. That’s why it’s highly important that the work that we do it looks different."

North Clayton Middle hasn’t allowed the challenges to discourage them. The school serves as a beacon of hope for the 902 students enrolled there.

The school has partnerships with community resources to go beyond the classroom, as a lifeline for families struggling during this time.

“In terms of food, rental assistance, utility assistance, any kind of assistance - so those community partnerships have stepped up to make sure our families are supported,” Rice said.

As far as classroom resources, principal Rice said the district has ordered devices for schools in the county. The county said they’ve already issued 35,000 devices to students, and more are on the way. A county spokesperson said all devices will be sent by late August.

The district said they are also issuing over 4,000 hotspots to students for virtual learning.

Right now, about 15 students at North Clayton are on a waiting list to receive laptops. Principal Rice said she is hoping that need will be met soon.

 “I think it’s important for us to help remove those barriers. And not the school alone. It’s important for the entire community to pull together right now," she said.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 

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