After nine months, the impact that the pandemic is having on our nation’s most isolated and rural communities continues to rise. With rising cases, the pandemic has forced many schools into extended periods of remote programming this holiday season. In rural communities that often already have equity gap challenges to overcome, this simply does not help to make things better.

In this recent Associated Press article, author Cedar Attanasio reports with more detail on this topic. Attanasio highlights students who live in the particularly rural community of Cuba, New Mexico, a village of 800 people on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation who live in a variety of cabins, trailers, campers, and other structures. There, some of the only human connections for families come when the school bus arrives to drop off food, supplies, and assignments.

School counselors ride the buses so they can check in with their students. The move to remote learning as a result of the pandemic has left students in this community “profoundly isolated — cut off from direct human contact and, in many cases, unconnected to the grid,” as Attanasio reports.

To make matters worse, many in the New Mexico community lack basic necessities, including running water, electricity, and internet connectivity. School laptops are charged at relatives’ homes or with car batteries when possible. Many students use these devices to engage in asynchronous work that travels back and forth on the school buses on USB sticks. Many students opt for paper packets because the challenges of keeping laptops charged are just too significant.

The story from this New Mexico village is not unique, but rather a story that is being told in many of our nation’s most isolated communities from coast to coast. For many low-income families, young adults are being asked to work more in an effort to help families make up for financial losses or increased expenses due to the pandemic.

Young children are spending time with family members or in child care centers so that parents can work. Increased isolation leads to negative impacts in physical as well as social emotional well-being. With all of this, schools are continuing to try to meet the needs of students, and this creates additional strains. Here are some strategies that school administrators in rural communities may find helpful in these trying times:

1. Keep the buses rolling with food deliveries. As was seen in Cuba, New Mexico, the buses provide not only a critical lifeline to get supplies transported back and forth from home to school, but they also allow staff to make human connections with students.

2. Look for ways to expand both human and virtual human connections with isolated students. Consider the way not only counselors but other school staff can assist with this to lessen the load on any one staff member.

3. Consider the environment when developing curriculum tasks. Recognize that rural students may have less-than-ideal working environments, and as a result, may be limited in what work they can do, and how they can do it.

4. Make connections to community-based support programs. Schools must look to expand their connections with community-based organizations that can provide supports to both students and families who may be in crisis.

5. Never stop chasing grant funds that could be used to offset community needs, whether they are academically related or not.

6. Think outside the box on other ways school programming can be delivered to isolated students beyond packets or digital lessons. Here is an example of such thinking: Perhaps a woodshop teacher could take their woodworking tools on the road, setting up demonstrations or performance tasks for students in student driveways.

7. Remember that parents need support, too. Parents are relying on schools to provide a level of care to their children, even if that care is remote. School administrators should not forget that parents may need support, too. Perhaps virtual support groups, or other such measures, could be established to help parents and guardians through this difficult time so that they can be effective in their efforts to support their children in their schooling.

The longer this pandemic rages, the more our most isolated students will need our unwavering support. All of us as educators need to be mindful of this when planning for the future.