School buses are now doubling as internet hotspots for Newton students needing more frequent Wi-Fi access during their temporary stint of fully remote learning.
Set up outside Newton High School, Emerson Hough Elementary School and an area near Kellogg, the buses are equipped with internet mobile hotspots so students may download or upload coursework or other needed materials for online learning. The Wi-Fi is available during class hours.
So can kids pull up with their parents to watch Netflix or browse their social media feeds? Shane Wheeler, technology supervisor at Newton Community School District, says no. The hotspot network operates similarly to the internet at school, which filters out recreational use. This is strictly educational.
“Somebody, if they really needed internet, could drive up, download their assignments to their school device and be able to work on it and then upload it later, is kind of the hope,” Wheeler said. “You don’t have to get out of the car to do that, and you don’t need to be in the building.”
Optionally, the school may be able to set up these Wi-Fi hotspots on buses when students travel for activities, post-COVID. Wheeler said staff would be able to turn on the hotspots allowing students to be more productive on their bus ride to a meet or away game.
Earlier this month, Jasper County’s 14-day positivity rate went about the 20 percent threshold. When administrators decided all Newton campuses would transition to a temporary, fully remote learning model, families had reached out about connectivity issues.
Prior to going fully remote, Newton students spent only one day a week doing remote learning. Bret Miller, director of teaching and learning at the Newton school district, reasoned connectivity issues likely weren’t as much of a problem with one day of off-site instruction. But full-time would become a problem, he said.
“When we’re doing remote learning all day, every day, we’ve had families reach out to us say, ‘Hey, our internet is not quite enough to do the Zoom meetings all day.’ Or maybe they went to a friend or relative’s house just on Mondays, but it’s not feasible Monday through Friday,” Miller said.
Using the buses as Wi-Fi hotspots in the centrally located spots in the district was one solution to address some of those problems. If students cannot hold a stable internet connection for longer instruction, they can at least download their assignments and submit them through Wi-Fi.
“So it’s not that they have to sit there all day,” Miller said. “It gives them that option in addition to what’s available in the community. The library’s got Wi-Fi, private businesses do. But we don’t want to overwhelm private business, so we thought, hey, let’s get these out.”
The school district’s technology department has kept itself busy this past year because of the amount of remote learning. But Wheeler said families have been accommodating as they try to tackle new challenges. It’s not the best situation, he said, but he feels like parents, teachers and the district are working together.
“It seems like everybody’s just trying to find the best solution they can to make sure their child is getting an education — at least that’s what I’m seeing,” Wheeler said. “We’re working hard to make the best of what we got.”
Ultimately, what the school district is trying to do is “reduce barriers,” Miller said.
“We know that having kids go to the parking lot to access internet is not perfect, but it’s better than not having anything,” he added.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or