Lynchburg City Schools is working to use funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to allow its students to have access to the LCS network and high-speed internet at home.
At Tuesday night’s Lynchburg City School Board meeting, LCS administrators shared an update with the board on an initiative they’re calling “Project WISH: Wireless Service at Home.”
John Collins, director of information technology for LCS, said the project will look at where students without internet access are located around the city, install wireless towers in those areas and connect those towers to the LCS network, which will allow students to access LCS services and the internet.
“... The whole goal of this program is to close the connectivity gap for our students,” Collins said.
LCS Superintendent Crystal Edwards said this initiative comes as a result of the digital divide among its students, which the division saw more clearly last year as remote learning became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Edwards said the division worked last year to provide personal MiFi devices to students who needed internet access for remote learning and extended WiFi reach at some schools in the city so students could connect from the parking lots.
This school year, Collins said, nearly 500 families have been provided hotspots for internet access. Now, the division is looking at ways to address this issue more permanently by expanding its existing wireless access services.
Collins said connectivity is important as it allows virtual learning, remote interaction, virtual field trips and equitable expectations.
“It’s very difficult to have an expectation that a child will be online learning if we can’t guarantee that they have a network connection or a computer or device,” he said.
While all LCS students would be able to benefit from this initiative, Collins said staff developed phases based on the concentration of economically disadvantaged students.
Using survey and demographics data, Collins said the division determined it would first deploy this initiative in downtown and parts of midtown Lynchburg, as the need for access is greater there.
Phase two would address other parts of midtown Lynchburg, as well as College Park. Western and northwestern Lynchburg would be in phase three and Boonsboro and Rivermont would fall in phase four.
In phase one, roughly 1,600 students would have wireless access from the installation of just two towers, which Collins said likely will be located at Dunbar Middle School and E.C. Glass High School.
About 1,800 economically disadvantaged students fall in the phase two geographical region, and phases three and four encompass about 1,000 economically disadvantaged students each.
Once students have access, Collins said faculty and staff also would be able to access the LCS network at home.
Due to delays in shipping of necessary equipment, Collins said the first phase likely would not be completed until about December — pending board approval of the project and budget.
According to a presentation Collins made last month to the LCS finance committee, this project comes with a $3.5 million price tag, which would be funded by CARES Act dollars.
The ongoing cost would total about $180,000 annually for support services, equipment and one additional full-time staff member, Collins said.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 5.