As schools across the country shut their doors indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of students are now adjusting to online learning. But for low income families who may not have access to WiFi, this transition is a problem.
That's why the Austin Independent School District (ISD) has deployed 110 school buses now equipped with WiFi to neighborhoods and apartment complexes where the district identified the highest need for internet access.
Starting on Monday, the district "strategically positions" the buses, which have WiFi capabilities up to a distance of 300 feet, every weekday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Students can connect to the WiFi using their school computers only, not personal devices, though they're not allowed to board the bus. While everyone is advised to stay inside, students may have to move closer to the bus to gain access to the WiFi, but 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.
The district 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.