The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) is helping to distribute mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to students across the county who don't have a reliable internet connection as one of the ways it's supporting distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SDCOE employees have already distributed about 7,000 hotspots to students in 24 school districts, 11 charter schools, and its own Juvenile Court and Community Schools. There are plans to continue distributing at least 2,000 more. Hotspots are mobile devices that provide internet connectivity via cellular service, similar to the data services utilized by today's smartphones.
"The hotspots have been a godsend and truly a game changer for our students and families," said Danny Pasawongse, director of information technology services and support for the Chula Vista Elementary School District. "We have heard and seen tears of joy and thankfulness from families. Families tell us how humbled they are and that it means the world to them to have accessibility, usability, and inclusion, despite their computer literacy and skills, economic situation, geographic location, disabilities, or language barriers."
The work is part of a broader effort by SDCOE to close the opportunity gap and ensure all students have the resources they need to succeed while many schools are learning from home. The effort also includes partnering with terrestrial (wired cable/fiber) and satellite internet service providers to deliver connectivity services that meet the needs of our geographically diverse county.
"Bridging the 'digital divide' is a long-term need that is even more vital during the pandemic," said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. "This is an important step toward ensuring that all of our children – especially our most vulnerable students – have what they need and deserve to succeed in school and in life."
Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots are a particularly effective solution for students experiencing homelessness as well as students living outside the service area of terrestrial internet service providers, where cellular connectivity is the only option.
"Assuring access to broadband connectivity for all San Diego County students is a complex challenge, requiring both near-term and long-term solutions," said Terry Loftus, assistant superintendent and chief technology officer at SDCOE. "Significant work by SDCOE, school districts, charter schools, and community partners has made connectivity a reality for tens of thousands of students in recent months, yet considerable work still lies ahead, and SDCOE remains focused on connecting all students."