As schools across the nation close their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, students and families are shifting gears and adjusting to virtual learning. However, for some without internet access, this transition has not been easy. The Austin Independent School District (ISD) has developed a program to get computers and internet access to as many students, homes and neighborhoods as possible while campuses are closed.
Austin ISD has recently deployed 110 school buses now equipped with WiFi to neighborhoods and apartment complexes where the district identified the highest need for internet access. Students can access the WiFi using their school computers only (no personal devices), but are not allowed to board the bus. Each bus reaches 200 feet, so if students have to move closer to the bus to gain access to the WiFi, they must remain at least six feet apart from anyone else to follow social distancing guidelines.
The WiFi equipped buses are funded through a $600,000 grant from Kajeet, an education technology provider. “As we prepare for the possibility of extended school closures, we know that an Internet connection is a lifeline and a learning link for our students,” Kevin Schwartz, chief technology officer for Austin ISD, said in a news release. “Austin ISD will be deploying many of our 500+ Kajeet Wi-Fi/Internet enabled school buses to locations around our school district so that students can connect using our district Chromebooks.”
Though the grant process began months before the coronavirus outbreak, Kajeet used their collaboration with the district to support the new plan to provide students with WiFi during COVID-19. Kajeet will continue providing WiFi on buses during the next school year for field trips and activities.
Austin ISD has also provided students in grades 3 to 7 who don’t have computers with Chromebook laptops as well as WiFi hotspots if needed. Students in grades 8 to 12 have already been provided with devices from an existing school program.
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