HCISD hit the ground running with remote teaching and learning in March. In the two months of this new type of education, the district discovered a lack of adequate internet access for a number of students and staff working from home. About 900 students declared the need for connectivity. District staff members explored several possibilities to help alleviate this problem. Over the past month, they have worked tirelessly to carry out the plan that will help with student connectivity.
Beginning this summer, the district will implement Park and Learn, an initiative to provide internet access to students and staff through Wi-Fi Zones located outsides of campuses all across the district.
“Families will be able to park their cars in designated locations and connect to the internet to access their e-learning assignments,” Computer Network Specialist Jaime Reyes said. “In previous years, students would gather in certain areas of campuses to access the Wi-Fi signal, but that might not be possible in the current situation. So, HCISD Technology Department amplified the signal to reach out to campus parking lots using external antennas. This will allow students and staff to follow CDC guidelines for social distancing while accessing the free Wi-Fi.”
The Wi-Fi Zone signs placed outside school buildings will indicate the best point to access Wi-Fi at each location. The strong internet signals from these antennas can reach across vast parking lots. Larger campuses might have two Wi-Fi areas if they are needed, but students and staff do not have to go to the school they attend or work at to be able to connect; they may visit any location that is most convenient to them. The outdoor Wi-Fi Zones will be accessible seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Installation and system checks of external antennas have been completed at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences, Dishman Elementary, and the HCISD Administration Building. The Technology Department will continue working to have Wi-Fi Zones ready for all campuses by August 2020.
Along with the parking lot Wi-Fi, the district is also prepared for any future shelter-in-place situations where students would not be able to leave their homes.
“HCISD will be ready to deploy an additional 30 Wi-Fi-equipped mobile units, including ten buses to provide internet access for students in case of another shelter-in-place,” Reyes said. “In collaboration with the HCISD Transportation Department a “heat” map was developed with survey data that helped to guide where these mobile units would have a greater impact.”
Every campus will have an external Wi-Fi spot and at least one mobile unit available. The Wi-Fi mobile units will work the same way as the external Wi-Fi parking lot locations at each campus. The mobile units will travel to certain areas during scheduled times to provide internet access to students who need it.
“We are extending our schools into our community,” Administrator for Organizational Development, Veronica Kortan said. “From a technology standpoint, we are doing everything possible to have equity with instructional continuity.”