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How Wi-Fi buses are helping Hopewell schools close the digital divide

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Posted at 11:57 AM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 11:57:44-04

HOPEWELL, Va. -- Maintenance members of the Hopewell Public School District are working on a big project. Buses normally used to take students to and from school now have a different use. They are being retrofitted with wireless routers to provide free Wi-Fi.

"This is a way that we can reach out to the children that don't have Wi-Fi at home so they can just park the bus in the neighborhood and do their homework," said Hopewell mechanic Derrick Carr.

"We have eight here today that we'd like to get done, we did six yesterday, and the total goal is approximately 30 units," added James Bulls, Hopewell Public Schools Manager of Maintenance.

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Kris Reed is the Hopewell School District Supervisor of Information Technology.

He says about 1,000 of their nearly 4,200 students don't have reliable internet access at home. The buses will help close what he refers to a digital divide.

"This is one way that Hopewell has demonstrated that we're innovative and we're willing to do what it takes to get our kids what they need so that we can keep learning," said Reed.

The buses have signs indicating that they are a smart bus and directions for how to log on. The routers send a wireless signal from the buses that reach about 300 feet. Each can accommodate up to 60 concurrent connections at a time so Reed says the district was very particular to where the buses would be parked.

"Right now, we're kind of trying to target large community areas. That gives us the most bang for our buck as far as coverage goes,” said Reed.

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Speaking of cost, the district partnered with a technology company in Northern Virginia, Kajeet, for the routers. It was initially supposed to cost the district $29,000, but now the number is down to zero thanks to donations from local private foundations.

"We're very excited to announce that the Greater Richmond Foundation and The Cameron Foundation were able to each provide half the amount so our whole project has been fully funded,” said Reed.

Hopewell is the first district in the area to dedicate a fleet of buses for Wi-Fi use to their students.

Although the pandemic has changed the way they learn, relying more on technology, the Hopewell School District doesn't want that to be an obstacle.

"For our kids to not get educated right now is not an option. For us to be able to get these kids what they need and try to close that digital divide, I just think it's amazing,” said Reed.

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