When schools closed in mid-March due to the pandemic, education suddenly shifted from an in-classroom experience to online learning. That shift threatened to leave behind students with limited or no internet access.
Thanks to an emergency grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation, internet access was transported into communities that lacked it, giving all students equal opportunity for education.
“You can’t have distance learning if kids don’t have internet,” says Jackson County School System Director of Technology Michael Summer. “We need to turn over every stone to do everything we can for our students.”
The Jackson EMC Foundation helped turn over the proverbial stones by providing grants to four school systems for Wi-Fi access: Commerce, Jefferson, Jackson County and Madison County. With their grant, the Jackson County School System purchased three SuperKajeet SmartBus Wi-Fi systems, hot spot products that provide a 100-yard range for connectivity when mounted on a school bus.
“Due to the limited cable/fiber options available, we had approximately 200 students who had no access to learning while being required to shelter in place,” says Jackson County School System Superintendent April Howard. “Our technology team partnered with our transportation department and we equipped three buses to allow these students to participate in the same remote learning experience as their peers.”
A wireless broadband provider that specializes in the K-12 market, Kajeet supplies content filtering and Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliance, ensuring that children are not able to access unsavory sites or social media, according to Summer.
“They are for educational purposes only,” he says. “Families were grateful for their children being able to bring home Chromebooks and have internet access to use them.”
The three Wi-Fi-equipped buses were parked in different neighborhoods where the need was greatest. A piece of paper taped to the door shared the user name and password students could use to connect to the internet. Buses remained parked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“In one neighborhood, the bus driver parked close to a community pool, so kids were able to sit at a picnic table under the shade to do their schoolwork,” says Summer. “With the Jackson EMC Foundation gift, we were able to reach the most kids in each neighborhood. Moving forward, we may be able to use these Wi-Fi systems more.”