Tonight in our "Empty Seats, Full Heart" preview, we look at how the pandemic affected the digital divide for students in Arizona schools.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - All week we've been sharing snippets from our time spent at Justine Sptialny Elementary School in Maryvale. We watched as the pandemic changed the venue for teaching and learning and the digital divide made it additionally difficult for all students to remain engaged virtually.

“This is always a fun exercise too,” said principal Janet Hecht while logging onto to her computer. “It's not near as easy on google classroom as it is walking the hallway and going into a room. Everything online is just different. Nothing goes according to plan.”

Students at home were frequently distracted and challenged by technology making it additionally difficult to get all students to respond at once and remain on task. This was especially difficult for teachers teaching students letter sounds and how to read.

“You need to have that auditory, that oral response which is really hard, because I think there's a lag, even in the technology and they feel like they're following the direction, and think they're on pace with everybody, but it's just really hard and some of them are not,” said Hecht. “They're listening but they're not watching and so they're, they're kind of tuned out and then they just respond when it feels right.”

Empty Seats, Full Hearts

Computers, headphones, Wi-Fi hot spots, desks, school supplies, you name it, and the staff at Spitalny Elementary School worked tirelessly to deliver it all in an effort to ensure every student had a chance at success.

Our crew saw firsthand as these efforts unfolded for families over the course of the school year. The documentary Empty Seats, Full Hearts: A New World in Education airs Friday night at 8 p.m. on Channel 3.

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