School board hooks up Southside students to Wi-Fi

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

In responding to a need for internet service in areas where Title 1 students reside, Leon County School has fixed a disparity in those neighborhoods.

Schools in Leon County have been shut since early March because of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced students to take classes online. For those who didn’t have devices, the school district provided 2,000 computers.

Bringing internet access to the neighborhoods last week was the last step. State representative Loranne Ausley, who co-chairs the South City Foundation with state rep. Ramon Alexander, lauded the decision.

“We know that communities that are not connected are going to fall behind,” Ausley said. “There is nothing that underscores that more than where we are today. Having high speed internet is a necessity.”

Leon County School introduced 15 smart buses that are equipped with Wi-Fi to serve areas where students don’t have internet access. One of the buses will be stationed on the Southside at Orange Avenue Apartments.

Leon County Schools interim director of transportation, James Cole, shows the Wifi on one of its smart buses. Photo by St. Clair Murraine

The hotspots are set up with the buses stationed in neighborhoods Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the usual school hours. The buses will be parked each day through May 29.

Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hannah said busses also will be set up at Fort Braden, Chaires and Woodville.

“We are trying to cast a broad net because it’s totally unacceptable that our kids don’t have access to the internet,” Hannah said. “We have kids right here in our community that do not have devices and aren’t afforded the luxuries that other students have.”

Southside neighborhood schools include Bond, Nims, Fairview, Hartsfield Elementary and Rickards High School. Each bus will have Wi-Fi access up to 100 yards, about the length of a football field.

“I’m just very proud to be superintendent today,” Hannah said. “This is just another way that we are working to engage with our kids to make sure that no child is left behind.”

As many as 10 people at a time will have access to the routers that cost $30,000 to be fitted onto the buses. Hannah said the set up will remain on the buses after school resume a normal schedule.

State representative Loranne Ausley said the addition of smart buses will fill a void in the Orange Avenue Apartments. Photo by St. Clair Murraine

The school districts response to a disparity in Orange Avenue Apartments also was praised by Christic Henry, a member of the Foundation.

“This is another example of how we bridge those gaps,” she said. “We bridge them by listening and responding. This is an awesome response to a community need and that is the pattern we need to take.”

Ausley also announced that the Foundation is willing to help fund devices for students in the apartment complex. That is in addition to funding that could be available through the Leon County School Board.

“We harness the intellectual and social capital found in neighborhoods,” said school board member Darryl Jones.

While students have to return the devices at the end of the school year, Hannah said families in areas that don’t have Wi-Fi could get help. The district has some slots available through Comcast and Century Link, he said.

“Just ask,” Hannah said, encouraging parents to tap into the resource. “I promise you we will do everything we can to make it happen.”

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