‘A Game Changer’

Posted: August 5, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Superintendent knows the benefits of FlashFiber extend far beyond the classroom

Joe Wheeler next to deskJoe Wheeler EMC forever changed the community when it built the grid and connected the lines to power the first lightbulbs nearly 85 years ago.

Now, as the cooperative begins to make the first connections for its FlashFiber initiative, the work to bring affordable, high-speed broadband to Lawrence and Morgan counties is no less significant.

“One of my favorite stories is the linemen putting the first poles in the ground to bring electricity to the farm,” says Jon Bret Smith, Lawrence County Schools superintendent. “Joe Wheeler providing internet will have the same impact. It’s something that will pay dividends for generations.”

Changing the Schools & Community

Providing high-quality education in a normal year is no easy task. Add in a global pandemic, and it becomes far more difficult.

“Our teachers transitioned between in-person and virtual learning and did a phenomenal job,” Smith says. “The internet kept teachers and students connected throughout the pandemic. As we progress in the future of education, there’s a growing number of kids who want to be virtual or have some type of hybrid learning.”

While enrollment numbers in many school systems across the United States declined during the ongoing COVID-19 situation, online access provided an even playing field for students across Lawrence County.

“For the last 20-some years, we’ve been losing 60 to 80 students each year,” Smith says. “Because of the virtual program we offered, we gained students during COVID.”

With more than 5,000 students spread across 14 schools — each equipped with their own device — nearly everything can be done online. Classes connect virtually with other students across the country and around the world. Internet access takes students on virtual museum tours, science lessons are done online, and educational videos bring distant destinations to life.

“It seems like everything we do is online,” Smith says. “We wouldn’t be able to teach, enter grades, plan lessons, do attendance or so much more without the internet.”

Smith understands JWEMC providing fast and reliable fiber service will benefit everybody, not just the school community.

“Fiber is going to provide everyone in our county with equal access,” he says. “Students, staff members, parents, it’s going to benefit people of all walks of life and all ages. It’s also an economic development tool to help recruit new businesses. With fiber, our people can overcome obstacles. It’s definitely going to be a game changer for us.”