As education systems in the United States scramble to make remote learning possible in the era of COVID-19, the harsh realities of the country's digital divide continue to present themselves. Not all areas have access to reliable broadband. Not all children have access to a laptop. And even if both of those conditions are met, not all families have a home-Internet connection. According to FCC data from 2019, about 20 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband with speeds of at least 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. The Associated Press estimates about 18 percent of US students fall into that category.
Yet as school districts nationwide struggle to virtually translate the classroom experience, an increasing number of them have at least found a decidedly DIY-solution to this base question of connectivity: the classic, big, yellow (diesel) school bus as a Wi-Fi hub.
From Austin, Texas, to South Bend, Indiana, to Millard County, Utah, to Toledo, Ohio to Petal, Mississippi, (and countless other areas), these timeless symbols of a traditional school day are being strategically deployed with Wi-Fi networks in tow to help serve the most in-need students in a district.
"We are trying every way we can to reach [our students]," Kevin Schwartz, the Austin school district's technology officer for learning and systems, said during an April board meeting according to the Austin American-Statesman. "It may be a few doors down the hall, or it may be across town, but they are displaced. So, this is a tall task… It's not just a matter of handing a computer and a hotspot to a kid. There are grants and other programs that we are trying to bring together."