SALTON CITY, California — A local school bus is providing Internet access to underprivileged students whose homes are not connected. A bus drives up to West Shores High School each day with a Wi-Fi router mounted behind an interior mirror that provides Internet connection to students around the shores of the Salton Sea in Southern California.
This school bus Wi-Fi program in the district started this fall and displays the school district’s and the community’s effort to help students get better access to something they cannot afford.
During the night, a bus driver parks more than 15 miles away on a driveway in a mobile home park, where it is allowed. From there, the students are able to connect to the hotspot as long as the battery lasts, for most nights the battery lasts for only about an hour.
Many homes in the areas of Salton City do not have connection to high-speed Internet. In fact, unlike the wealthy communities elsewhere, this small town about 65 miles north of the Mexican border is primarily of low-income families.
Reports indicate that nearly 90 percent of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch. For more than half of the students, English is not their first language. About 2,000 of the total 19,000 students are the children of migrant farm workers.
Internet access enhances every level of education from kindergarten through high school to college and graduate school. The advances in information and communications technology through Internet access means that education is no longer limited to just the classroom.
For communities like these, the lack of Internet access in homes and schools becomes a huge challenge.
President Barack Obama commented on the district’s efforts in a recent speech held in Washington in which he called the effort “really smart.”
“You’ve got underutilized resources — buses in the evening — so you put the routers on, disperse them, and suddenly everybody is connected,” said President Barack Obama in Washington.
Recently, the Federal Communications Commission voted to increase funding for the federal E-rate program, a program that provides money for school districts to get access to the Internet.
The fund stands at a total of $3.9 billion annually after the Commission’s decision to increase the funding by $1.5 billion. The only problem with the increase in funding is that the money goes to the schools and not to the homes of the students, where roughly half of low-income families worldwide lack Internet access.
As more schools are able to connect to the Internet, teachers develop new innovative lessons with the use of the new technology.
The district’s school bus Wi-Fi program has a total of 90 buses ready, but so far only two of the buses have been set up with routers.
To continue with the program the school must find additional money. The district projected that installing Wi-Fi on all 90 buses will costs about $290,000. For the first two buses, the district agreed that one of the wired buses would go to West Shores High School because it is needed there the most.
The school district is still figuring out the logistics for the school bus Wi-Fi program. Since the parking spots for the buses is in private mobile parks, the owner must grant permission to allow the bus to be parked. Moreover, school officials need to find a way to keep the connection running for more than an hour. The latest idea from the program is developing a solar panel on the bus.
– Sandy Phan
Sources: Federal Communication Commission, Department of Education, USAC
Photo: Scratch Wireless