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WiFi on Wheels: Gloucester County Public Schools offers mobile WiFi service for students

The mobile WiFi service is intended to support distance education for Gloucester County Public Schools students only.

GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. — The school year is well underway, and some families still don't have reliable access to the internet. Gloucester County Public Schools is bringing the internet to them and making sure students have the resources they need.

It's called “WiFi On Wheels.” A school bus hooked up with WiFi travels to different neighborhoods throughout the week. If students are within 300 feet of the bus or have a direct line-of-sight, they’re good to go.

The bus stopped outside the Laurelwood Estates neighborhood Monday morning where the Smith family lives. Tyrone Smith has two daughters in Gloucester County Public Schools. They have internet in their home, but they know it can come and go.

“It can get a little dicey,” Smith said. “So, this is going to help. If my daughters need it, they know how to log on and do it.”

The initiative kicked off last week. Director of Transportation for Gloucester County Public Schools Tanya Deckard said the school division got about 20 connections in the first week, but they expect more. A division-wide survey shows about 750 students do not have broadband in their house.

“One of the users called said, 'When the bus comes around, I get four bars, when I usually get one,'” Deckard said. “All of our programs are geared to support our students as they navigate through this difficult time with COVID-19 and the virtual learning.”

The school division selected nearly a dozen neighborhoods to set up its “WiFi On Wheels” school bus, which helps those students who don't have internet and are using learning paper learning packets.

Director of Information Technology Scott Mecca said the school division is also in the process of distributing more than 600 hotspots to families.

“There's going to be those special instances where you'll need more than what the hotspot can do, and that's why we modified the smart bus,” Mecca said.

The Smiths know if anything goes wrong, they don't have to search far.

“If we have an incident with our stuff, then they have ways to be online,” Smith said.

Credit: Gloucester County Public Schools