Back to school

New Haven Bridging Digital Divide with WiFi, Devices

NBCUniversal, Inc.

While grabbing laptops at Career High School in New Haven Tuesday morning, students held a bit of optimism for the new school year.

“I can see right now it’s going to be better for us,” said Sergio Carrion, a senior at Career High.

With a full online return set to begin Thursday through the next 10 weeks, New Haven Public School officials announced Tuesday they have devices for all 21,000 students, and they are closing the digital divide in the city.

“Unlike many suburban towns, we have a lot of challenges with families not having adequate access to the internet and families not having their own devices,” said New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.

So, they’re handing out 5,700 laptops for high schoolers, adding 1,000 iPad and tablets for pre-K through second grade, and there are 11,000 Chromebooks on hand as backups. It’s covered by State of Connecticut, the Dalio Foundation, Yale University, CARES Act funding, and other donors.

“I’ve seen when it comes to the laptops, the Wi-Fi, they’re really trying their best to give us better than what they did last year when we had to do distance learning,” Said Carrion.

Officials say about 30% of students weren’t logged on then because the grading policy did not penalize students for missed work. She expects something different this year.

“This time around we’re having live instruction and I’m sure students want to see their friends, they want to connect with their teachers, so this means live instruction will get them more involved and more engaged,” said New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Ilene Tracey.

She says following their presentation to the State Department of Education two weeks ago, she doesn’t expect the state to interfere with the full online plan.

In order to join online learning, students first need to be able to connect to the internet. The school system set up mesh networks at five schools, and more are being wired.

They started by mapping where the highest concentration of students and placed Wi-Fi extenders on school buildings in those neighborhoods. The devices take the existing signal inside the building and pushes it out to the neighborhoods within about a two-block radius.

“Pretty much by the mid to end of September we’ll have all 15 of the sites live,” said Sabina Sitaru-Deroehn, interim IT director for New Haven Public Schools.

The networks are live at Lincoln-Bassett Community School, Fair Haven School, Christopher Columbus Family Academy, Career High School, John S. Martinez School and the former Strong School. Hill Central, King-Robinson and Roberto Clemente are all currently being wired. Troup, Hillhouse, Truman, Betsy Ross, Riverside and Strong will all be wired in the next few weeks.

“This is a huge change in how New Haven Public Schools does its education. It’s moving full steam ahead so that we can support whatever comes up over this next school year,” said Paul Whyte, assistant superintendent of schools.

The hardware cost $300,000 from last year’s budget, and there are plans for network access at Gateway Community College, Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University.

Additional internet access is being offered by the state with 3,000 mobile hot spots and 10,000 internet accounts to keep the playing field equal, no matter where students learn.

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