WTVP in Peoria, Ill., is expanding its digital multicast lineup to add a channel that will be dedicated solely to remote learning.
WTVP Remote, which is expected to launch later this summer, is the station’s effort to address the inequities in distance-learning opportunities for preK-12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WTVP has partnered with regional school districts to create a broadcast schedule of educational content that meets state curriculum standards and supplements teachers’ lesson plans.
Public television stations have dramatically expanded their work in K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have added daytime blocks of programs that align with curricular standards and digital learning resources. WHRO in Norfolk, Va., is producing VA TV Classroom, a block of instructional videos that air on public TV stations across the commonwealth.
The Peoria station is reconfiguring its multicast line-up to launch WTVP Remote and offer separate channels for Create TV and World, which have been splitting daytime and evening dayparts on one channel. WTVP staff had been considering adding a new channel for education, said President Lesley Matuszak, and decided to move quickly during the pandemic.
The initiative aims to assist students who lack internet access and computers in their homes, Matuszak said. With no access to the distance-learning instruction, these students have struggled to continue their studies during the pandemic.
After schools closed for the coronavirus lockdown, staff of the Peoria County regional school system heard from many families whose children couldn’t participate in at-home learning due to lack of computers, reliable Internet connections and even basic school supplies, said Superintendent Beth Crider. She called Matuszak to discuss the challenges, and the partnership to create WTVP Remote took off from there.
“It’s almost like COVID put a magnifying glass on the equity piece,” said Crider.
Matuszak said WTVP already had a strong relationship with the school system, which helped facilitate planning for the instructional channel.
Local philanthropists Sid and Flo Banwart stepped forward to make it possible, providing a gift that helped cover the costs of purchasing a new encoder. WTVP Station Manager William Baker said the equipment upgrade provides enough signal compression to add two new channels the station’s current multicast line up of three. The State Employee Credit Union also made a donation.
Matuszak said WTVP will use resources from PBS LearningMedia, local universities and the library system to complement lesson plans provided by school systems within WTVP’s viewing area. The schools will review the lesson plans to ensure that they meet state curricular standards. WTVP plans to rely primarily on programming from PBS and other distributors, not local productions, she said.
In addition to closing the gap in digital learning access, Crider said WTVP Remote will help ameliorate the effects that being out of school can have on children. Students typically experience a backward “summer slide” in academic progress during extended breaks from school. Such setbacks are exacerbated by the pandemic, especially for students in low-income families.
“If we don’t go back to school until August, that’s almost six months of no school,” said Crider. “That’s not a summer slide, that’s a catastrophe.”
Even if Peoria schools resume classroom instruction in the fall, Crider believes WTVP’s support for at-home learning will still be necessary. Some school systems may schedule classes so students go to school on some days and do distance learning from home on others, she said. WTVP Remote will be helpful to provide instruction on snow days and holidays. Many families in Peoria homeschool their children, so the channel will be useful for them too, she said.
WTVP’s plans for the channel after the pandemic plans are open for exploration, Matuszak said. The station could also partner with local universities to offer telecourses.
“The possibilities are endless,” said Matuszak. “We’re just blessed with folks that care in our community and step forward to offer their best talents or resources.”