Connect the Future Kentucky Coalition Supporter Spotlight: Teach For America Appalachia

March 10, 2021

Eleven years ago, Teach For America Appalachia (TFA Appalachia) began partnering with communities across Eastern Kentucky to provide an excellent education for students in the mountains. In our time working alongside students, families, and community members, we have deepened our belief that when students in Appalachia are provided the resources, guidance, and championing they deserve, they can achieve incredible things. As I spent my first few years in the region coaching teachers, I quickly realized that our students are some of the brightest and most innovative young people in our nation; they simply lack equitable access to the resources easily afforded to their peers in affluent communities. As we consider what it will take to reimagine and rebuild our educational ecosystems to, through, and after the realities of COVID-19, we believe there is no better time to ensure that students in rural communities are set up for unprecedented success.

As this year has only confirmed, in today’s world broadband access is a critical component to any quality education – and to achieving postsecondary success. How many of us apply for jobs online? Access information about educational options like college or certification programs? How many times a day do we head over to search engines to educate ourselves, or stream an instructional video on YouTube? Unfortunately, these day-to-day activities are still not accessible to the nearly 300,000 Kentuckians who remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. In particular, we are heartbroken by the daily experience of thousands of students in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky lacking the broadband access needed to enjoy a successful educational experience. The opportunity gap created by the lack of broadband access has only been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic, as our TFA Appalachia community almost entirely transitioned to remote, distance-learning.  Our teachers and staff have done remarkable work to adjust and accommodate to this “new normal” by providing technological tools and additional hot spots for students, but it is clear that the digital divide is too large of an issue for our teachers, administrators, and community members to bridge on their own.

TFA Appalachia is a strong supporter of the common-sense solutions proposed by Connect the Future Kentucky to ensure that all Kentuckians – including our Commonwealth’s students – have access to broadband. By breaking down the barriers that currently stand in the way of bringing broadband to more of our Appalachian communities, we can ensure that all children have access to the education they deserve.  As recommended by Connect the Future Kentucky, one barrier that we can immediately address is the existing pole attachments process.

The currently complex and costly process for broadband providers to attach to utility poles often discourage the investment and expansion of broadband infrastructure to those who need it most: our rural neighbors and students. Opportunities to ensure a fairer, faster, and most cost-effective process for broadband providers to access utility pole – such as the Kentucky Public Service Commission’s current pole attachments proceedings – will encourage increased investment to build out the broadband infrastructure needed to reach the students across Appalachia who are currently unconnected.

Every Kentucky student deserves access to an excellent education and the life opportunities that come with it, regardless of where they live. At Teach For America Appalachia, we know that ensuring our Appalachian students the same educational and life opportunities as their peers is an essential step toward ensuring a bright future in our region. We are proud to support Connect the Future Kentucky’s efforts to eliminating the barriers that currently inhibit high-speed broadband from reaching every corner of Kentucky.