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Wi-Fi Enabled School Buses A Small Step In Expanding Broadband Access For Rural Pennsylvanians

Editor's Note: The "homework gap" is a term used to describe those students who do not have broadband access at home and, therefore, are unable to complete school assignments. According to a recent ACT Research and Equity in Learning Study,  47% of students don't have access at home beyond a mobile cellular device. The below story is one example of local leaders taking action in an attempt to alleviate this growing divide. 

The following story was published by WESA - Pittburgh's NPR News Station on April 9, 2019
by Kathleen J. Davis 

BusMcGuffey Middle School in Claysville, Washington County is rolling out three Wi-Fi-enabled school buses to serve kids with long commutes who may not have internet access at home. This is the latest location of Google's Rolling Study Halls initiative, which is currently operating in 16 communities across the country.

Last winter, a Pennsylvania State University study found about 11 million people across Pennsylvania don't have access to high-speed broadband, categorized as download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second. That's about 85 percent of Pennsylvania's 12.8 million residents.

"If you're a household that doesn't have access to broadband connectivity, you don't have access to this wealth of useful resources, everything from being able to stream Netflix to being able to apply for your next job," said Penn State researcher Sascha Meinrath. "The reality is you can't participate in modern civil social society. You can't even apply for college without broadband connectivity."

Alex Sanchez, the program manager for the Google initiative, said the Wi-Fi equipped buses give kids with long commutes an opportunity to do homework they might not be able to complete at home.

"This is time that's otherwise spent just traveling from home to school that can now be spent working on projects," Sanchez said.

Aside from the Wi-Fi, the buses are equipped with devices -- like laptops and tablets -- kids can use to do their work. Google also covers the cost of an onboard educator, an employee of the school district who stays on the bus during the commute.

"So if students are having questions with homework, if they're working on projects and need another eye, they're valuable folks who are able to help them on the bus," Sanchez said.

Click here to read the full article.