Volunteers Bring Internet Access to Wake County Students

Cary, NC — With NC schools closed through the end of the academic year, reliance on technology for virtual learning is at an all-time high.

As a result, the Wake County Public School System made it a priority this month to provide home internet access to students without it. In collaboration with Activate Good and AT&T, almost 400 volunteers helped to configure and deliver an estimated 9,500 Internet hotspots in just a few days. These devices were dispersed in the last couple weeks to nearly 200 schools across Wake County.

According to Walter White, Enterprise Architect with the WCPSS Technology Services team, this is the phase one effort in meeting the need for internet access for students county-wide.

Building the Hotspots

Volunteers gathered at Vernon Malone College and Career Academy where the full order of 10,500 individually packaged hotspots had to undergo several work stations before they met the needs of the students. Before the work began, volunteers had to pass background checks, practice social distancing and wear protective equipment like gloves and masks to keep safe.

“It was not about efficiency and streamlining, it was about safety first,” said White.

The units were brought to the Vernon Malone campus where they were unpackaged, put together and barcoded for inventory.  A content filter was also installed to maintain the same online security that is enforced in the schools.

About 9,500 of the total 10,500 devices have been delivered with the rest held on reserve for any technical difficulties where a swap is needed.

Addressing the Current & Future Need

A car is pointed toward East Wake Middle School’s hotspot and Chromebook distribution site.

In their initial assessment, WCPSS sent out a survey to families to measure how many hotspots were needed in this phase one allocation. With a large number of families taking on this new equipment all at once, White said,

“We realize that this is new territory for families and they’re going to have questions.”

To help address any technical issues, the school system has created a staffed help desk and customized webpage specifically for parents with questions related to the new tech.

When asked if these devices will be collected once in-classroom instruction resumes, White said there have been no decisions on if or when that might happen.

“At some point, we will make an assessment of that, but right now our goal is to get the devices out the students,” said White. From this experience, White said the school system has realized that there is a need and that need will not go away with the end of the pandemic.

Story by Ashley Kairis. Photos courtesy of Wake County Public School System.