CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) are currently closed, and will stay that way until at least April 10, while the county prepares for the reality of students learning from home. To enable that, the school district is taking extra steps to help students who may not have access to computers or internet at home.
Earlier this week, the county distributed laptops to elementary school students for them to use while “distance learning.” While middle and high school students are assigned laptops they can take home, third through fifth graders in the school system have laptops that are traditionally not taken off school grounds.
“They normally keep their laptops here in the school, they don’t go home with them," ACPS School Technology Support Employee Ugo Ozurumba said. "But during this period, we’ve allowed them to take this laptops home to be able to use them.”
To address the problem of some students not having reliable home internet access, the county devised a creative solution.
“Our infrastructure engineers have tuned up our Wi-Fi signal at all of our schools to spread out into our parking lots," ACPS Chief Technology Officer Christine Diggs explained.
The Wi-Fi signal at all ACPS schools will reach into the parking lots and will be open to the public. While what online instruction will look like is still being determined, students will be able to drive up and access the materials they need. Parents will be able to get online, too.
“If they go to the parking lot of one of our schools," Diggs said. "Park closest to their front door area, or near classroom windows, they should have a broadband Wi Fi signal which is even better than just a hotspot which would have limited bandwidth.”
The Albemarle Broadband Authority (ABA) says that while the pandemic has not delayed any of their upcoming internet infrastructure projects, it is unlikely that any will be completed in time to help students before the end of this school year. ABA Chairperson Bucky Walsh says the current crisis just highlights the need for more infrastructure in the county.
“It’s drawing a clear, bright line under the problem that we’ve got in our county with thousands of people who either don’t have broadband or in some cases don’t have any internet connection at all,” Walsh said.
Albemarle County has made online learning resources and tools available on their website.