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California PBS 'At-Home Learning' Model Spreads Across U.S.

A new learning initiative in Los Angeles has ignited dozens of similar programs in the country. The model involves broadcasting state-approved lessons for kids without Internet or digital tools at home during the COVID-19 crisis.

A free distance learning program developed by Los Angeles Unified School District and PBS SoCal and KCET has sparked similar initiatives in 30 states as students continue their school year at home. 

According to a press release, more than 70 TV stations across the nation are now utilizing the California initiative's programming schedules and online resources. 

The purpose behind these efforts is to ensure that kids without sufficient digital resources at home can consume curriculum-approved education on TV as long as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Distance-learning PBS programs in Boston, Detroit and other cities have been announced since the success of the Los Angeles initiative, which began airing content on March 16. 

“We asked PBS to work with us to create a service to help our students continue to learn, even if they lack access to the Internet,” Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner said in the release. “This also presents an opportunity for families to watch, learn together and find a few minutes of escape from the difficulties they are facing.”  

Since the learning material started broadcasting in Los Angeles, more than 200,000 daily viewers from 140,000 homes have tuned in to the shows. Local PBS stations in San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento have adopted the programming, and PBS continues to work with other local areas in California that are interested in the opportunity for their students. 

“Our goal here is for all students to have access to free educational resources,” said PBS SoCal CEO and President Andrew Russell in the release. “It’s encouraging to see that our audiences are responding and using our service — the numbers show increased viewership for the stations involved, and that caregivers and children are responding positively to our shift in programming. In our first week of the program, PBS SoCal and KCET saw 34 percent and 67 percent ratings increases, respectively, with our new schedule. We hope that viewers will continue connecting with our content to continue their learning in these unprecedented times.” 

Toolkits have been created to help PBS stations in California and other states generate material easily for local school districts and communities. 

According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, approximately 12 million children lack broadband connections at home. School districts across the country, in both urban and rural districts, have reported that their students have unequal access to both the Internet and appropriate digital devices. 

Another factor is that some households have multiple school-age children attempting to engage in distance learning simultaneously during this crisis. 

"Educators have told us that they know that in many homes, siblings are having to compete for computer time to work on learning," said Rich Homberg, president and CEO of Detroit Public Television, according to The Detroit News. "We are providing an option for parents who want to support what educators are able to do online during this unusual and challenging time."

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.