No Child Left Offline

Up close with Digital Equity in Coachella Valley.

GUEST COLUMN| by Ian Pennell

CREDIT Coachella SchoolsWould it surprise you to learn that 5 million households with school-aged children are not connected to the Internet today? It is a shocking number given the shear amount of learning that happens online for our children in today’s modern world. Whether it is help with homework, accessing online learning suites, or researching educational or instructional videos, a reliable online connection is required for learning inside and outside the classroom. One school district is doing its best to lead the charge for providing an always-on solution for students.

Superintendent Adams devised a plan to leverage the district’s 100 school buses to act as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and become its own Internet service provider. 

Once equipped with the LTE solutions and a solar panel to power them, these buses are parked across the school district’s 1,250 square miles – an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) in California is bridging the digital divide with “Wi-Fi on Wheels” to ensure no student is left offline. The CVUSD is located 30 minutes west of Palm Springs and sits on a vast and isolated desert. It is also home to the second poorest school district in the United States and nearly 20,000 students. The CVUSD’s mission has been to educate and assist its students in realizing their full potential and becoming contributing members of our society.

Economic hardships are a fact of life for both the CVUSD and the families of its students. With many residents in the area struggling just to pay the rent most months, affording basic Internet services is often a luxury. This makes it extremely challenging for students to get ahead academically and be prepared for success after graduation. The digital divide that faces the students of the CVUSD puts them at a real educational disadvantage when it comes to connected learning and educational success.

Daryl Adams, Ed.D., superintendent for Coachella Valley Unified School District, undertook the task to give these students the access to the Internet they need in order to succeed. When third party Internet service providers were not willing to service some of the local areas in the CVUSD, innovative ideas had to be implemented. To do this, Superintendent Adams devised a plan to leverage the district’s 100 school buses to act as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and become its own Internet service provider. The CVUSD was able to create these hotspots using Cradlepoint software-defined 4G LTE solutions.

Once equipped with the LTE solutions and a solar panel to power them, these buses are parked across the school district’s 1,250 square miles – an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. This ensures that students throughout the district have an Internet connection at school, on the ride home, and while they are at home. The CVUSD is able to fund this endeavor through a $45 million bond measure passed in 2012, with the goal to fund the initiative for over 10 years.

While many may assume that the use of LTE for primary connectivity is only for large enterprises to connect customers and employees, the CVUSD is proving that this technology can be used for so much more. Cellular connectivity is able to bridge the digital gap for some of the poorest students and families in our communities where the necessary infrastructure for connectivity isn’t in place or services are simply too costly.

Since the start of the program in 2012, the CVUSD has seen graduation rates increase from 70 percent to 80 percent, and has been able to connect thousands of students every day to ensure they have the resources to succeed in the classroom and at home. Superintendent Adams hopes this can become a model that can be used to connect school districts across the country, regardless of surrounding environments or economic status.

Ian Pennell is CMO at Cradlepoint, a leader in networking solutions. Ian has 30 years’ experience working in the computer and networking industry. He served as SVP and GM of Cisco’s Small Business Group and as SVP and GM for Cisco’s Enterprise Access Routing Technology Group. During his tenure, he had P&L responsibility for multiple strategic market segments including Branch Office Routing, Dial Access and Small Business. Before Pennell’s leadership roles at Cisco, he held a number of senior sales, marketing and engineering positions across a variety of technology startups, and has been instrumental in the vision and development of some of the industry’s most successful solutions, including Cisco’s Integrated Service Routers.

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