Shelby County Schools is working on creating paper instructional packets for students, online classes, and TV and radio programs so students can continue to learn during the unexpected break, Superintendent Joris Ray told On Point, a national NPR radio show.

Superintendent Joris Ray with students in Memphis.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shelby County Schools

The district owns a TV station, C19, and radio station 88.5FM. Both outlets post public service announcements and livestream school board meetings. They also publish stories about student and school achievements while training students to do the same. Some Spanish programming is also included. But using the media outlets to double as virtual learning tools is new territory for the broadcasting stations.

Ray hopes the virtual learning plan will make up for lost instructional time while schools are closed next week. By offering more than just online classes, Ray said more students could participate given that many families do not have internet access at home. Common areas that provide internet access such as libraries and community centers are closed throughout the city beginning Wednesday to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

About 72% of Memphis households have internet access at home — the second lowest in the nation among large cities in 2017. In some areas of the city, just 55% of households are connected to the internet, according to U.S. Census data.

“There’s a huge digital divide here in Shelby County,” Ray told NPR on Monday morning, adding that there are about two students to every one device.

The lesson packets, online learning, TV and radio programs for students to continue learning are being created by district staff this week. Details are expected to be released later this week, he said.

“Next week we’re going to hit the ground running,” Ray said.