Internet Woes have Tussey Students Disconnected and Distraught

This article has won Writer of the Week for the Huntingdon Daily News.

By:   Alivia Melius—(grade 12)—

Student learning at Tussey Mountain has hit an internet speedbump frustrating students and teachers alike. Tussey Mountain Junior/Senior High School has been one among several schools within the Appalachian Intermediate Unit 8 to experiences changes in internet service providers in the 2019-2020 school year.
Through the Regional WAN program, the IU8 was able to distribute internet services to schools within the region of their unit. Previously, the company known as Affiniti provided these schools with sufficient internet access.

“[Affiniti] closed its doors in June and didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything,” said Tussey’s technology coordinator Jeremie Jessee. “The state came in and said, ‘you can’t just close your doors and stop providing internet,’ so they had to find other providers.”

Forced into service, In The Stix, a limited liability company out of Sankertown, Pennsylvania, was issued the contract and drafted as the new service provider. Since then, internet users at Tussey Mountain High School have encountered slower speeds and outages on a daily basis, although the school still has to pay the same price for the quality that was originally written in the contract.

“Essentially, what happened was that we lost a piece of equipment and [In The Stix] couldn’t necessarily fix it correctly,’ explained Jessee, “so they had to then put in their own equipment which now we are getting a slower internet speed and it is [not consistently connected]. There could be other equipment problems too; they’re constantly working on that, and I’m working with them.”

The difficulties with the internet have affected the faculty immensely in regards to daily lesson plans, prompting most teachers to improvise classwork.

“I realized that I had to be extremely flexible,” said English teacher Bree McCahan. “It’s been a constant struggle throughout the year so far. I basically had to resort back to pencil and paper. I have worksheets available that [the students] might’ve been doing online instead.” McCahan’s curriculum is almost entirely based on platforms including Canvas and Google Classroom, much like many other classes at Tussey. “Not utilizing online platforms, like Canvas, at the high school level would be a disservice to students planning on attending college,” McCahan said.  “In the long run, experience with online tools will only help students become more comfortable with navigating their way through a virtual learning environment. Unfortunately, the unreliability of the internet at Tussey Mountain poses a threat to that learning.”

Along with teachers, the students have also been greatly affected. “None of my assignments in English have submitted fully, which kind of reminds me of my internet struggles at home,” said senior Gage Russell. “The home provider I have is so off the grid, I doubt anyone has even heard of it. It’s borderline dial up. I believe that we are missing out on valuable information because we live in a rural community.” 

“I wasn’t able to access my online classes,” explained senior Samantha Blackstone. “In an urban area, we would probably have access to more resources.”

Due to the contract’s standards not being upheld, the high school is currently searching for other providers such as Comcast–which is utilized at Tussey Mountain Elementary School. Despite both institutions belonging to the same district, the two buildings are separate, and only the high school was part of the Regional WAN program since it is deemed the “core” facility. It is not certain if the current contract is able to be terminated at this time, but the high school has taken Comcast and other companies into consideration for potential providers.

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