Drive-up Wi-Fi project helps rural students get online

By | April 17, 2020

Students in a rural Manitoba community who can’t get online at home to do school assignments can now access the internet with drive-up Wi-Fi at Landmark Collegiate.

The Hanover School Division created a Wi-Fi hotspot by placing an antenna on the outside of the grades 7-12 school. The project, launched Monday, allows people in the community to drive into the school’s bus loop and log on.

“We knew that in every community there’s a need for access to Wi-Fi,” said assistant superintendent Colin Campbell.

“We’ve … kind of put our heads together to figure out how can we serve our families to help support learning at home?”

Many students face technology challenges in their homes, which range from not having internet at all to having very slow internet or multiple users within a household, Campbell said.

Moving the school’s Wi-Fi capabilities outside allows students to go to the school to download what they need to work offline, or connect with classmates and teachers.

A Wi-Fi antenna is now outside Landmark Collegiate so students can access the schools’s high-speed internet from the bus loop. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

“[There’s been] a lot of great feedback from staff, as well, that some of their students that they had a hard time connecting with online, they’re able to connect with now,” Campbell said.

Chris MacKinnon, the division’s director of technology services, said the school has enough bandwidth capability and infrastructure in place to make opening up the Wi-Fi a reality for a minimal cost.

“Some of our smaller rural towns may be a little under-serviced with the availability of Internet service,” he said.

“We were just trying to find ways to leverage the infrastructure that we’ve already got in place and then be able to provide … some of those small-town students and families access to some high-speed internet at the same time,” MacKinnon said.

Landmark resident Margie Saucier has five kids in her home trying to do school work at the same time. Her husband also works from home and it’s more than challenging to get everyone online, she said.

“It would be impossible to have them all online at the same time,” Saucier said.

“My oldest is up at two in the morning, from probably 12 to 3 in the morning. That’s when she does her school work ’cause she says that’s when the internet is working,” she said.

“It is that ridiculous.”

Margie Saucier says her five school-age kids cannot access the internet in her home easily, which makes their school work challenging. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Saucier said the internet in the community has always been slow, and she’s even considered having a second Internet connection installed in her home, but was told the company won’t enter her house because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She welcomes the free internet option and sent her oldest child to the school on Wednesday to take advantage of the connection.

Kaitlynn Turner says the internet access in her home in Landmark, Man., cuts in and out and makes online activities difficult. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Kaitlynn Turner finished school last year but said her younger brother is struggling with his online studies because of the internet capabilities in their home.

“I don’t know if it’s just personally my Wi-Fi or Landmark, but it cuts in and out a lot,” she said.

“It’s slow and so trying to get him doing any work is difficult.”

Turner thinks the free Wi-Fi will help the whole community and give them a way to stay connected.

One of the terms of using the Wi-Fi is that anyone who is outside the school must maintain proper physical distancing at all times and not gather in groups.

“They will have a welcome page that they log onto, they read the social distancing expectations and then they’re able to access the Internet service,” Campbell said.

The free internet is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and is filtered and monitored by the school division. 

Chris MacKinnon, director of technology services at Hanover School Division, says getting students online keeps them connected to their peers as well as helping them with their studies. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

It’s a pilot project, but once the division sees how it works, they might expand it to other rural communities that have limited internet.

MacKinnon said providing students with access to high-speed internet can make it easier for them to stay engaged with school work.

The division, which has about 8,300 students, also has loaned 5,500 laptops and tablets to high school and middle years students. They have another 1,200 available, MacKinnon said.

While technology isn’t the only tool that allows kids to learn at home, it can help provide opportunities to interact and collaborate with their classmates and teachers.

“I think that emotional contact is something that is very different, but if we can help engage in different ways with technology to keep them in that contact, it’s very important.”

Students can now access the Wi-Fi outside Landmark Collegiate from the school’s bus loop. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

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