Public officials are trying to breath new life into a withering rural Alabama town by taking the technology in its public high school and trying to extend it into the community to help families gain new access to learning opportunities.
Piedmont, a town of 4,800 people located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northeastern Alabama, bears all the attributes of a town the U.S. economy left behind: Factories have shut down, downtown storefronts lie empty and nearly 37 percent of the town’s children live in poverty, according to a Washington Monthly report.
While many school districts have embraced technology programs as a way to advance students’ learning, Piedmont has a broader goal than creating high-tech classrooms, said Matt Akin, the superintendent of Piedmont City Schools. It aims to create a community that can foster more online learning for families, attract people to the area and, in turn, spur economic development.
Access to technology and the Internet in rural areas can help close critical information gaps and expand opportunities, some economic researchers argue. The vision behind the plan is to make computers and high-speed Internet available to rural residents, and help them can access college and scholarship information, take online courses, fill out job applications, and find educational resources.
“Technology allows people in rural areas to reap the benefits of a rural lifestyle, while not sacrificing access to learning opportunities,” said Karen Cator, president of Digital Promise, a nonprofit that helps schools integrate technology.
In rural areas, access to technology helps students become “digitally literate,” she told a Washington Monthly reporter. “If you’re in a rural area, it doesn’t mean you have less varied interests than students in other parts of the country,” Cator said.