SAN JOSE (KPIX) – Parents and educators have feared that online learning during the pandemic would leave some students behind, with the digital divide between wealthier and poorer families widening the achievement gap. But the divide in distance learning goes beyond technology.

“You can get distracted very easily,” says Junior Tello.

The 11th grader says the transition to online learning has proven challenging even with his own laptop and a reliable Internet connection.

“It would be better if we could just go to the regular public school. We could meet in person with the teachers. And if we had an issue, we could resolve it right there,” says Tello.

Eleventh grader Anthony Rodriguez agrees.

“I’d rather go to regular school because I wouldn’t get distracted as much,” says Rodriguez.

The San Jose Unified School District says the first few days of class this week has revealed just how wide the digital divide truly is.

District spokesperson Ben Spielberg says overall 93 percent of students logged on for the first day of online instruction. In the district’s wealthier neighborhoods and schools, attendance number approached 99 percent but in its poorer neighborhoods, attendance plunged to 66% — effectively one out of every three students missing valuable class time.

“The challenges of at-home learning and distance learning run well beyond just technology,” says Spielberg. He says the district has handed out thousands of laptops, tablets and WiFi hot spots to students so that access to equipment wouldn’t stand in the way of learning.

“There are still drastic disparities in terms of what the learning environment can look like in terms of low and high-income families,” Spielberg said.

Effectively engaging students through online instruction is a challenge facing school districts statewide says Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“This has to be a much more interactive process where we want to bring our students ‘into the screen.’ We want them to be engage peer-to-peer and not just with the interaction with a teacher,” Newsom said.

San Jose Unified says their staff is busy reaching out to students and families who missed class time during the first week of school.

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