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Wi-Fi buses and beyond: Schools create internet hotspots to facilitate remote learning

By The SATimes News Service

With this unprecedented school year just beginning, many districts across the country have had to figure out ways to ensure their students remain connected.

According to a June study done by Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group, about 15 to 16 million K-12 public school students have no access to internet, or devices equipped for distance learning at home. A viral picture of two students doing school work outside of a Taco Bell in Salinas, Calif. last month further illustrated the digital equity gap.

In May, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down countless schools across the country, several school districts in Dayton, Ohio, Austin, Texas, Carbondale, Ill. and others were using school buses to provide Wi-Fi to students as they finished the year at home. With the new academic year already here, many schools have decided to either expand or diminish the program.

In Ohio, the Dayton Public School District has decided to have K-12 students attend virtually for the first nine weeks of school. According to the district’s website, students will watch pre-recorded lessons in the morning with groups of students able to interact with their teachers live in the afternoon. In addition to providing school supplies and Chromebooks, a spokesperson for the school district tells Yahoo Life that they are also helping students with access to Wi-Fi.

“The district has provided Wi-Fi hotspots to all students who requested one in order to learn from home for the first nine weeks,” spokesperson Alex Kincaid says. “Students can still call to request a hotspot at any time throughout virtual learning.”

Mosinee School District in Mosinee, Wis. is undergoing a similar initiative while also continuing to utilize school buses.

“We are still operating a [school bus] program, but have now morphed it from buses being parked around town to individual hotspots sent out with families that need coverage,” Brady Mesenberg, director of technology, tells Yahoo Life.

Some school districts have actually expanded the reach of the Wi-Fi school bus program. The Austin Independent School District (AISD) will be using the hybrid reopening approach after the first month of school. They will allow a 100 percent virtual-learning option to students, but with officials only allowing up to 25 percent student capacity on each of their campuses, there will be a lot of children and teens who will need to rely on internet connectivity for their education.

In a statement to Yahoo Life, Cristina Nguyen, a spokesperson for AISD, says that they have doubled the amount of Wi-Fi buses in their “high-density” communities.

“We opened our district with four weeks of remote, off-campus learning so during that time we wanted to think creatively about how we could use our transportation fleet to support that online learning while the buses aren’t transporting students to/from school,” she adds. “We’ve also distributed more than 15,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for our students and we have an additional 10,000 more hotspots on the way.” (Source: Yahoo Life)

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