School buses transform into roaming WiFi hotspots for Polk County students

Almost half the students in Polk County do not have access to the internet, according to a recent study by the school district. That is an even bigger problem now than before the pandemic.

Classes have been canceled because of COVID-19, and students are supposed to be home learning online.

On Monday, the district sent out 50 equipped to serve as WiFi hotspots to areas in need of internet service. 

“Many are located on school property, but quite a few are in neighborhoods and community centers, said Chris Long, of Polk Vision.

The buses will be available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday at designated sites. There are more than 80 sites throughout the county.

During those times, students and families in the area will be able to connect to the internet, according to the school district. It's all part of an initiative called Synced for Students.

The idea is for students to come to a location and access the internet, possibly sitting in a car or on a bench.

Up to four dozen students, within about 500 feet of the bus, can use the hotspot at the same time.

The district is also buying 500 mobile Wi-Fi units, which it will lend to students and staffers who need one.

Access is not the only problem.

“I don’t think that every kid who needs a device, has one,” said Dr. Tina Barrios, the assistant superintendent for information and technology.

To address that, the district made available 60,000 devices, laptops, and tablets, to students a few months ago.

Barrios says a fair number of staffers also do not have computers or internet access.

The WiFi log-in information and a list of designated sites can be found on the Polk County School District's website.

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