How East Tennesseans stay connected without internet access

COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It may be hard for some people to imagine the world without internet in 2018, but it's a reality for some in East Tennessee.

Grassy Fork Elementary School has 113 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Principal Judy Webb estimated 80 percent of them do not have internet access from home.

"It's just not something a lot of kids can afford and if they can, it's for a very limited time. Maybe they'll choose to have it this month, maybe not another time," she explained.

Dr. Webb said students have to come to school in order to get online. The school uses that to their advantage; some kids will stick around from 7:30 a.m. until 6:30 at night.

President Trump signed two orders this week to expand broadband in rural America.

Newport Utilities is laying down fiber optic lines to provide internet access that could cost as low as $40 a month.

For now, though, teachers like Jamie Clark do not assign homework requiring internet access, because he doesn't even have internet access from home.

"I use the internet in my classroom for various things - interactive activities, research. As far as homework, I do not use internet for homework assignments because many of my students do not have internet access at home," Clark said.

While it limits education in some ways, Grassy Fork is actually one of the top schools in the state. They're a Reward school and a SCORE finalist.

Clark said tapping into other resources besides the internet has driven his students to success.

"Because they have to find it in their own way, they don't have their easy, 'Oh let me Google this,'" he imitated, "They have to go back to an encyclopedia, they have to go to a family member who knows about it and personally interact with people rather than those who are on the internet and pull up the information."

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