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Library Broadens WiFi Access For Students

Partnership with school district to help 50 families

Article Published in Beaufort Today

By Jessicah Lawrence, Beaufort Today

With technology now playing a vital role in learning, Beaufort County libraries north of the Broad River are teaming up with the school district to help more students gain access to the internet.

A pilot program last year provided 10 Beaufort County families from Whale Branch and Lady’s Island schools with devices to be used for educational purposes such as completing nightly homework assignments or projects. This year the program will help 50 students.

The program started in 2015 because the library constantly saw a need for internet access outside of the hours provided at its branches.

“We saw students and parents sitting outside in their cars to pick up the library’s Wi-Fi access after we had closed in order to finish their homework,” said Ray McBride, the Beaufort County Library System director.

“We went to the school district to see what they were experiencing. The big problem is that they have laptops or devices because of the schools but no internet access when they go home.”

Seeing students fall behind was not an option for the school district. With the library on board, the two asked County Council to fund the pilot program for $10,000.

But this year through the South Carolina State Library, the program will be funded by the Library Services and Technology Act grant, which will provide $23,200 to expand the project to 50 Wi-Fi access devices.

Wi-Fi is provided through the Kajeet SmartSpot access point, which allows the families and students to access only educational and school district-approved websites.

“The district has a great partnership with the library. We are working together to provide resources for our students in and out of school. Through Connect2Learn, each student in Beaufort County has a mobile device. Students in grades 3-12 also have the opportunity to take these devices home to continue their learning,” director of educational technology Chrissy Robinson said.

“Although most students have access to wireless internet at home, there are still some that don’t. Through our partnership with the public library, many of these students now have access to a free wireless hotspot that is checked out from the public library for the entire school year. Students are selected for this program through recommendations by the school.”

This year’s program will kick off Oct. 1 when the grant is submitted to the library system, McBride said.

Students are recommended to apply for the broadband program, which allows them to borrow the mobile SmartSpot for free for the entire school year.

Mobile SmartSpot devices use cellular networks to create a personal broadband internet hotspot and provide portable, high-speed connectivity that can be shared between multiple users. But with the devices comes more responsibilities, said McBride.

“In order to get feedback from the families, we had them complete a survey every month to tell us how things were working,” he said. “This program really showed its success. And five out of the 10 homes had multiple students, so it was not just helping one child.”

Besides providing computer and Wi-Fi access on-site, the library’s reach will now include the homes of 50 families, bridging a gap that has impacted students for years.

“This is just another way we are able to serve the community. Public libraries are the hub of the community,” McBride said. “People can come to us, but now we can go out as part of that technology program and make sure everyone has access.”

Once again, students in sixth through 12th grades will be selected through an application process and recommendation from the school district. Last year’s 10 families will be given the opportunity to receive the devices again.

Training in the use of SmartSpot devices is mandatory for those selected. In addition to the students, training will be extended to their parents or caregivers to enable them to provide support and expand their own digital literacy skills.

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