(TNS) — Morgan County Schools is expanding its technology footprint, a change that's giving students access to academic assignments they otherwise wouldn’t have, school officials said.
For the first time, the school district has added Wi-Fi hubs in buses that transport students from Danville, West Morgan, Falkville and Priceville to the system’s Technology Park at Brewer High School.
“In some cases, students are on buses about an hour and the reason for doing this is to knock down barriers to learning,” Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said.
Christy Free, who is career technology counselor for Morgan County, said about 150 students commute daily to the career tech center. She said some career tech teachers have online components to their classes and the Wi-Fi addition gives students access to work on assignments while en route.
“They also can access homework assignments on their way back to their home schools,” Free said.
Falkville senior Maranda Banks said the Wi-Fi access is beneficial.
“It helps me get my work done while on the bus so I can get it done by the time it’s due,” she said.
Despite spending millions on technology, Morgan County, just like other school systems in the state, still has a significant digital divide among students because many don’t have access to high-speed internet service when they leave school, said Lee Willis, deputy superintendent and technology coordinator.
School officials define digital divide as the gap between students who have access to computer technology and people who don't.
Free said Wi-Fi on buses helps with this issue.
“We have students who are able to take their English classes online so they can come here for career technical classes,” she said.
Hopkins said how school districts deliver education in the Decatur area is changing because of the need to produce more highly skilled workers in response to pleas from industrial leaders.
Schools also have to comply with the state requirement to make sure every student completes one online/technology enhanced course or experience prior to graduation.
Morgan County’s career technical classes designed to produce highly skilled workers are at Brewer, which in some cases is about a one-hour bus ride for students.
Jeremy Childers, who is career tech and workforce development director for Morgan County Schools, came up with the idea to equip buses with Wi-Fi hubs because he wants to increase the number of students in career technical education.
“Due to the amount of business and industry expansion in the surrounding area, career technical education has the responsibility of getting these students workforce ready,” he said.
A report commissioned by the Business Education Alliance of Alabama and released last month said the state would need 500,000 new highly skilled workers by 2025.
Morgan County is already ahead of some school districts in the area because the career tech center has a program that teaches students to build and work on Toyota-made engines.
In January, Toyota and Mazda announced construction of a $1.6 billion plant in the Huntsville-annexed Greenbrier part of Limestone County. The Japanese automakers have said the facility could generate as many as 4,000 jobs with an average salary of $50,000 annually.
Hopkins said before Wi-Fi was added to buses, students were losing a class because of travel.
“We’ve eliminated that issue,” the superintendent said. “This is a huge change because students can take a class online while traveling, and we are encouraging them to do so.”
©2018 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.