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Connecticut Schools Eye Wi-Fi Plan for Online Learning

Suggesting that online instruction will be part of public school education well into the months to come, New Britain, Conn., is looking for ways to make Wi-Fi available to low-income families.

by Don Stacom, The Hartford Courant / May 13, 2020
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(TNS) — Suggesting that online instruction will be part of public school education well into the future, New Britain, Conn., is looking for ways to make Wi-Fi available to low-income families.

The schools are working with a local car dealer to deploy more than a dozen Wi-Fi hotspots to poor neighborhoods this week. That should provide service for the rest of this semester to hundreds of low-income families whose children can’t access the internet.

But New Britain needs a long-term solution, and should start looking for the most efficient ideas now, educators said.

“With technology opening new possibilities to reach and connect with students, and distance learning likely to take on a more prominent role in the future, school leaders are seeking a more permanent solution,” the school system said in a statement.

Superintendent Nancy Sarra is inviting Mayor Erin Stewart along with other city and school leaders to a meeting Wednesday afternoon to establish a task force on school technology.

The schools are waiting for state officials to decide whether the fall semester will be entirely online, entirely in traditional classrooms or a hybrid of both.

But either way, educators have said the switch to Google Classroom for the past seven weeks has brought some unexpected successes. They envision some form of online education continuing well into the future.

Some teachers have reported that students who were performing poorly in traditional classrooms have been more engaged and successful online. Those students appear more comfortable communicating with teachers, submitting homework, getting assignments and doing research that way, educators said.

Currently, though, online education leaves out about 10% of the city’s public school students. They live in low-income neighborhoods where their families don’t have Wi-Fi.

“They have found it challenging to engage with their teachers and classmates during this time of online learning,” Sarra said. "While our partnership with Schaller Auto will help families access the internet through the end of this school year, this is a temporary solution, and a more permanent solution should be explored.

Late last month, Alderman Colin Osborn told Stewart in a letter that New Britain should be doing more to solve the problem.

“Why is it acceptable for students from these underprivileged neighbors not to have immediate access to Wi-Fi to complete their schooling?” he asked. “It is already tough enough for those who are underprivileged here in New Britain to live and function."

The city pays $250 a month to provide free Wi-Fi in two major parks as an amenity for visitors, and should do the same in its poorest neighborhoods, Osborn said.

Soon afterward, Schaller and the school system announced a short-term fix: The schools will install Wi-Fi hotspots in more than a dozen Schaller vehicles. The dealership will park those cars in low-income neighborhoods on weekdays through the end of the school year.

©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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