The Wi-Fi Has Left the Building – Creative Wi-Fi Solutions for Shut-Down K-12 Schools

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 1 May 2020

Wi-Fi on Wheels, Walls, and More

From parking Wi-Fi-enabled school buses in strategic locations to installing Wi-Fi access points on exterior walls, school districts are finding new ways to provide internet connectivity to their students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remember that old saying “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain?” In the time of the current pandemic, we need a revision:

“If students cannot come to the school for free Wi-Fi, then the school must send Wi-Fi to the students.”

For Shady Point School District in Oklahoma, providing Wi-Fi to its 165 students was imperative. “Our area is very poor and rural,” says Superintendent Bruce Gillham. “We’re geographically dispersed over mountains and valleys with dead spots everywhere and sketchy cyber service.” 

Gillham knew he’d need to work fast to enable instruction once his school was closed for the pandemic, so the former technology director thought outside the box (or, in this case, the building) and installed Extreme Networks access points on key locations. 

“We put access points on the outside of our school building, on a digital sign on the highway, and on City Hall. All three provide internet connectivity to people within 1,000 feet,” says Gillham.

On site, Shady Point uses Extreme’s C35 Wireless LAN Controller and AP3805i for internal Wi-Fi coverage and AP3c65i for outdoor. Off site is AP1130 with outdoor antenna kit and Extreme Cloud IQ. Wired network uses X440 POE switches and Extreme core switches.

The district also distributed Chromebooks so that teachers and students can use Google Classroom, Zoom, and other digital tools. “We’ve asked our elementary teachers to meet twice a week with each student and our middle school teachers to conduct group meetings twice a week,” says Gillham. “So far, we’ve had a lot of engagement and it’s all going well.”

Wi-Fi on Wheels

While strategically-placed outdoor access points proved to be the right solution for a small district, the School District of Manatee County in Florida needed to provide coverage for 49,000 students.

Matt Bauer, senior engineer, network systems & security, described that first, the district handed out almost 10,000 Chromebook and Windows laptops; next, it was time to make sure all families had internet connectivity to access Schoology, the learning management system. 

The technology department ordered 400 mobile hotspots to give to families with an additional 81 hotspots ordered to be used for summer school bringing the total number of hotspots ordered to 481. They installed Extreme Networks outdoor access points at 36 schools to provide Wi-Fi access daily between 8am and 7pm, and then purchased additional access points to install at another 19 sites. The indoor spaces of the district are well-blanketed with 4,000 Extreme Networks Wi-Fi access points.

But the district wanted to do more, so they installed Wi-Fi devices on 25 buses. They are currently parking the Wi-Fi buses at dozens of locations around town, including churches and other community centers. This way, students can get free internet access at various spots between 9 am and 4 pm every day. 

According to an article in District Administration, around 45 to 60 students use the Wi-Fi daily and the district hopes to double its fleet of buses and continue to make them available during summer school and possibly beyond. 

Open-Air Access

When Pearl River County School District in Mississippi shut down schools in mid-March, the technology department had already begun discussing how to provide connectivity for its 3,500 students.

They handed out 3,500 Chromebooks over the course of four days via a drive-through distribution point, but needed to make sure everyone had access to Google Classroom, says Raymond Newton, chief technology officer and IT director.

“We have a Wi-Fi mesh to cover the parking lot and access points mounted on outside walls so that up to 40 students can work at picnic tables and other areas,” he says. “I’m happy to say that it’s been well-received.”

To help make sure everyone can access what they need, teachers post assignments on Mondays at 9 am and students have a week to complete them.

So far, the outside coverage has been sufficient. “Younger students tend to come to the buildings in the early hours, and the high school students drive up in the afternoon and stay for 30 to 60 minutes,” says Newton.

From consulting with districts to devise a creative solution to your Wi-Fi needs or deferring payment, Extreme Networks is always available to work with K-12 IT managers so that your educators, students, and communities can continue to learn and to thrive.

Shady Point School District has assembled portable access points to be used where needed.

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