Hyper-local public-private partnership gives rural students a pathway to career success

Doddridge County Schools partners with Citynet and JASON Learning to prepare students for high-demand careers in tech.

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Doddridge County Schools, West Virginia

When COVID forced schools in Doddridge County, W. Va., to transition to blended and remote learning, Superintendent Adam Cheeseman knew that some families would struggle to get internet access. The challenge presented an opportunity to leverage an existing partnership. Together with Citynet, a local internet provider and JASON Learning, the district had created a program that would bring internet access to the full county, while giving students an opportunity to serve as real-world tech support for the network. In addition to providing the infrastructure, Citynet executives and employees would serve as role models for the students, offering in-person mentorship and coaching, while helping them close real-life technology tickets.

Free and reduced-price lunch

The Challenge

Doddridge County in West Virginia may have been one of the last county’s east of the Mississippi to report a COVID case. In fact, physical school buildings opened on time, with a traditional five-day in-person model to start the school year. But, as superintendent Adam Cheeseman tells it, “when it hit, it really hit.”

A few students reported positive tests. But the thing that initially forced the system to shut down buildings and transition to blended and remote learning was a lack of substitute teachers.

Many of the district substitutes were retired. Many were elderly. Some were at high risk for severe COVID disease.

“They simply didn’t feel comfortable coming into school,” says Cheeseman. So the school system chose to transition before the state said it needed to. “We just didn’t have the teachers,” says Cheeseman.

The district eventually moved to two days of face-to-face learning, two days of virtual learning and one Friday catch-up day, with no virtual sessions, per week.

While some families embraced the move to hybrid and online learning, the district had to make accommodations for others. Because Doddridge County did not have full internet access.

“Between CityNet, Doddridge County Schools and our partnership with JASON Learning, we have come up with a curriculum and a partnership that allows our students to have a role in bringing internet, for the first time, to the entire county.”

-Adam Cheeseman, Superintendent
Doddridge County Schools, W. Va.

The Solution

Where some districts might look at a lack of internet access as a deficit, Cheeseman saw an opportunity. While the county and the school system couldn’t race to provide internet access to every family during COVID, it could leverage its existing partnership with regional internet provider Citynet to ensure families never had to struggle with connectivity, or feel cut off from education, in the future.

In addition to providing internet access to the county, Citynet agreed to sponsor an innovative public-private partnership, whereby local Doddridge County Schools students would provide technology support to local families.

Through the district’s partnerships with JASON Learning, the district developed a hands-on experiential curriculum delivered through its entrepreneurship classes. Students would learn about key technical concepts, including wireless and remote internet connectivity. As part of the program, they would serve as the first line of IT support in helping customers address connectivity issues or other technology-related challenges.

The Citynet team would serve as mentors to the students and create an escalation or ticketing system, where they could step in to address more difficult or complex customer issues and provide coaching, mentorship and clear “teachable moments” for students.

The hyper-local approach solved two problems for Doddridge. (1) It provided a way to extend internet access to needy families (2) it gave local students access to real-world learning opportunities, with a clear pathway to a potential high-demand career.

“It’s important for us to introduce our students to not only private industries, but to the heads of those industries and the people who work in those industries, so they can look up at them as role models, to learn from them, but also so that they can walk right out of Doddridge County High School and into a real-world position,” says Cheeseman.

And this is just the start. Currently, the district is working with three local businesses to develop similar training models. “None of this would even be possible without our partnership with JASON Learning,” says Cheeseman.

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