Albemarle County trying to improve internet access for students

Albemarle County Public Schools says about 1,000 of its students do not have internet access at their home.
Updated: Dec. 4, 2019 at 2:53 PM EST
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, V.A. (WVIR) - Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) says about 1,000 of its students do not have internet access at their home. Some teachers believe that digital divide creates challenges and inequity, but administrators have a plan.

The county’s technology department is hoping to roll out Wi-Fi devices to students by the end of the year.

Wi-Fi hotspot device.
Wi-Fi hotspot device.(WVIR)

“This just comes out of a little box that’s smaller than a phone, and provides Wi-Fi in their house that they can connect to. Just like if they were going to McDonald’s or Starbucks or a library,” Coordinator of Digital Equity Bert Jacoby explained.

The school system wants to provide internet plans to students so they’ll be able to complete work at home.

“To provide some digital equity to our students who are either in an area that’s not really served by a lot of connectivity, or they may be in a served area but don’t necessarily have the economic means to afford internet access,” ACPS Chief of Technology Christine Diggs explained.

To solve this problem, administrators originally wanted to build their own internet network: “We found there were just some challenges implementing that project, primarily it required towers on our school properties, and there was some resistance to that,” Diggs said.

The Wi-Fi devices are the new plan, and they’re supposed to address the need more quickly and at a lower cost.

“The hard part is really finding the families that need it, because they do have to self-identify: there’s no way for us to know who doesn’t have internet unless they tell us they don’t have internet,” Jacoby said.

“There will be approximately 10-percent that we just won’t be able to reach, because it’s cell signal. So, part of it is us working in partnering with the county and seeing how our broadband efforts are going to progress,” Diggs said.

The goal is to provide one of these devices to any middle or high school student in Albemarle County that needs it.

“Students need to be able to access information at home. And if we can help as a school district to enable them to learn all day long, rather than just when they’re at school, then we need to find ways to do that” Jacoby stated.

Students using laptops in the classroom (FILE)
Students using laptops in the classroom (FILE)(WVIR)

The school system says it is focusing on serving secondary students who already bring school laptops home with them.

Parents who want to learn more about registering for the program should contact their child’s school.

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