(TNS) -- A partnership between Beaufort County's public schools and libraries is seeking to bring Internet access to some families living in rural, northern Beaufort County.
Through the SmartSpot Education Broadband Pilot Project, 10 students in the areas of Lobeco, Sheldon, St. Helena Island and Yemassee will be able to borrow free portable mobile hotspot devices for the remainder of the year. If the program is successful, the county plans to expand it.
"Some of our students who live in underprivileged areas don't have that technological access, so these hotspots will allow them to close that technology gap," school board member Bill Payne said Wednesday.
The program comes at no cost to the school district, as Beaufort County is paying about $7,000 for Kajeet MiFi devices and Internet access through its library budget, according to library director Ray McBride.
The partnership also includes discussions with Verizon, McBride.
He hopes people participating in the initiative will take note of the library's other digital resources to improve their exposure and confidence in using technology.
"Public libraries these days are about access more than we are about having physical buildings," he said. "So this is just another way to provide access."
The library received the devices Tuesday and hopes to have them in students' homes by mid-February, McBride says. The district will help identify the families that have the most to gain from their use through an application process, with preference given to households with multiple children.
Up to 10 people can connect to each device.
Students in grades six through 12 who have no Internet access at home may apply.
Earl Campbell, the school board's representative in Grays Hill and Lobeco, says he knows students who must do their homework on computers at the library or Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Dale because their families don't have Internet access.
He's optimistic the program will engage not only them, but parents who don't know how to help their children with schoolwork. The loan is contingent on a 30-minute training in the use of the device.
"If it turns out to be good for the students and parents and community, I'm pretty sure people would buy into it," Campbell said, noting that the program may not be free if expanded beyond the pilot.
To ensure the libraries get their devices back, students could be charged overdue fees of $3 per day and a replacement fee of $140 if the device is lost or stolen.
Students must bring the device to the libary once a month to check it out again and fill out a survey that tracks the time they spent online, what they used the Internet for at home and their ability to perform tasks like using web browsers, finding information through search engines and researching a topic.
While students can access social media sites using the MiFi devices, each will be loaded with privacy and education-only filtering technology to prevent hacking and the accessing of inappropriate materials.
©2016 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.