With hundreds of its students expected to choose to start the school year online next month, Warren County Public Schools is working to expand high-speed internet access, a project WCPS Technology Director Robert Flora calls “critical” for ensuring students are engaged and get real-time feedback from teachers.
Starting with its schools at the outer edges of the county, Flora said the district is working to install internet access points in school parking lots.
The district is also pursuing mobile hotspots for students by using a small fleet of vans or buses that could visit specific neighborhoods or apartment complexes.
Estimating that about 30% of the district’s students lack high-speed internet connections at home, Flora said the district is moving ahead to make Wi-Fi internet available outside its schools as its most viable option for expanding access to students.
“I can say for sure we will have our outermost schools ready when school starts,” he said. “The rural areas are what we’re going to start with.”
That approach, Flora said, will allow many more students to access high-speed internet outside their school without degrading its overall quality, rather than solely relying on mobile hotspots.
Still, the district plans to outfit four vehicles with hotspot capability to target densely populated areas, Flora said, adding the district is determining exactly where these stops would be.
Planning to reopen Aug. 12, Warren County Public Schools will offer in-person and online learning options. To help shape those learning formats, the district recently solicited parent feedback through a survey that drew about 11,000 responses – with roughly 25 percent indicating a preference for a virtual learning option for their children.
Most of the district’s schools have enough devices to help supplement students’ distance learning endeavors, Flora said. However, without high-speed internet connections, students will miss out on the immediacy of online learning, as opposed to paper assignments and worksheets.
“By having this available in parking lots, they can have that same access, which I personally find critical,” he said.
Similarly, the Bowling Green Independent School District has expanded its yearslong effort to offer students a personal computer. After equipping each student at Bowling Green High School with a Chromebook this past school year, the district is extending the initiative down to the fourth grade for the coming school year. If they need to continue learning remotely in the event of a school or district closure, students between the fourth and 12th grades will have access to the devices, administrators have said.
BGISD Technology Director William King has said the district is also exploring ways to offer students internet connections in some capacity. Based on internal survey data, 92 to 95 percent of the district’s families have internet access at home, King said in an interview in June.
“We’re looking at, in the future, how can we provide more internet as far as external access points that maybe can provide internet on our property as far as out into parking lots and playgrounds,” King said.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.