Friday, August 21, 2015



by Alisha Kirby | SI&A Cabinet Report ::

August 17, 2015 (Mo.)  ::  A St. Louis district is one of many across the nation looking to provide InternetInternet access to students at home in an effort to keep them from falling behind after the school bell rings.

Affton School District, where more than 40 percent of students live in poverty and 12 percent are without reliable home Wi-Fi, allows high school students to check out wireless hotspot devices. The program is rolling out to the middle school when classes begin this week.

Although originally designed to give students more time to complete school assignments, Robert Dillon, the district’s director of technology and innovation, said students have benefitted from the new program immensely in other aspects.

“It’s amazing what they can do and learn in those other 18 hours each day they aren’t in school when they have the ability to do so,” Dillon said in an interview. “You see students get excited about new careers, follow their musical passions, create digital art, or find their voices by blogging, or even run Etsy accounts where they make and sell jewelry.”

As students are expected to contribute more thorough and complex research to various assignments it is pertinent that they have regular access to Internet outside of school, educators say. Yet in rural or low-income areas especially, many students can fall behind if a lack of Internet access keeps them from being able to simply complete their homework.

Students in urban areas can often find a temporary solution, such as using free Wi-Fi at the local library or even many fast food chains and coffee shops, according to Dillon. However, older students who go to a part time job after school may not get off in time to use those facilities’ free Internet service.

At Affton, students can check out devices and keep them for up to two gigabytes of use – which lasts about one month on average – before bringing them back to school for a check-up. This time is also used to talk with the students about what assistance they may need or answer any questions they might have.

“It’s just another way for us to dig into what is truly affecting their learning,” Dillon said. “It’s another human interaction with students who are already struggling. Often times, students that have needs in the way of Internet or broadband access have other needs we can help with.”

Schools and cities across the country have taken different approaches to providing all students with reliable Wi-Fi. In Austin, Texas and the California cities of Santa Clara, San Jose and San Francisco,  citywide Wi-Fi access is provided. Council Bluffs, Iowa is in the process of doing the same.

Some districts in California, Kansas and Iowa have equipped school busses with Wi-Fi so that students can begin their schoolwork on what can be an hour-long trip for some.

In Maine, the students in rural Washington County will soon be able to check out Wi-Fi hotspot devices similar to those in Affton County. “When students have that access at home the entire family has access too,” Dillon said. “Maybe a younger sibling can use it or parents can create resumes or look for jobs. It really helps entire families.”

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