In an effort to make the back-to-school transition a little easier, a school district in Indiana has sent out 35 buses equipped with WiFi to help with distance learning during school hours throughout the area. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the stark reality that many students don't have access to reliable internet and as many school districts across the country are relying heavily on remote learning, access to WiFi has become more important than ever.
The South Bend Community School Corporation announced plans last week to park 35 school buses equipped with WiFi in areas where there is a lack of internet access, as CNN reported. Students and families will not be allowed to board the bus "for safety and health purposes," as the school board explained in a statement on its website, but students' Chromebooks will automatically log on to the free WiFi once they are in range. The Indiana school district reports that they have handed out more than 17,000 Chromebooks to students.
WiFi from the buses have a range of 300 feet, according to the district, and the public can login without a password if a student is not using a Chromebook. The buses will be parked in public places with "benches and covered areas" throughout the district between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than 70% of households with students in the South Bend Community School Corporation, the fourth largest in the state, have broadband internet subscriptions.
The South Bend Community School Corporation is not alone in utilizing school buses with WiFi to make it easier for kids to distance learn. The Mobile County Public School System in Alabama also announced it would be sending out 20 WiFi-enabled school buses throughout the area for kids to access the internet during school hours, according to NBC 15. The Cumberland County School District in Pennsylvania has also utilized WiFi-enabled school buses to provide hot spots for students, sending 80 buses out during school hours as well as ordering 10,000 computers for kids who will be distance learning, as WRAL reported.
It's a trend happening across the country, and a necessary one. Though it's been happening for quite some time, internet inequality has never been more pronounced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the Associated Press reports that 3 million kids in the United States are living in homes without internet access
Back in May, Tawana Davis of South Bend, Indiana went viral when she was homeschooling her four kids in her car parked close to a WiFi hot spot. Davis' story caught the eye of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who sent the kids their own iPads and headphones and arranged for Green Dot Bank to cover the family's WiFi costs for two years as well as donating an extra $20,000 for expenses.
Unfortunately, there are millions of families struggling to access internet for distance learning and these WiFi-equipped school buses might be a lifeline for them right now.
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