As Berkeley County schools enter their second month of distance learning, Google’s Rolling Study Halls program has transformed into Rolling Hotspots, bringing reliable Wi-Fi access to rural communities. Through the partnership between the Berkeley County School District (BCSD) and Google South Carolina, 30 BCSD school buses will be outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities, ensuring students and families will have free internet access now through the summer.
The goal of the initiative is to strategically place the Wi-Fi outfitted buses in communities that lack reliable internet connectivity. The Wi-Fi signal will extend around 400 feet, creating a mesh network; so students can gain internet access without boarding the bus. The next phase of the Rolling Hotspots implementation will be to outfit the school buses with solar power, eliminating the need for buses to constantly run in order to provide Internet access.
“The unusual circumstance facing teachers and students today presents a world of new challenges that we couldn’t have adequately predicted or prepared for,” said Berkeley County School District Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram. “That said, we’re fortunate to have had the infrastructure of the Rolling Study Halls program in place, that we can adjust relatively quickly to meet the needs of our students and families.”
Due to its advancements in technology, BCSD was approved last year for the eLearning Pilot for students to make up days missed for inclement weather primarily through digital learning. BCSD is one of the few districts in the state that has a 1:1 ratio of Google Chromebooks issued to students to complete assignments. Last fall, Google awarded a grant to BCSD for a partnership with local internet provider Home Telecom to provide internet connections for over 350 homes with school-aged children in Berkeley County.
“While these are certainly unprecedented times, we want students to retain a level of normalcy. By bringing hotspots into communities, we aim to provide students the ability to complete their homework; the ability to chat online with teachers and friends,” said Google Head of Southeast Public Affairs Lilyn Hester.
Google’s Rolling Study Halls were first unveiled in the Berkeley County School District in 2017, outfitting school buses with Wi-Fi so students with long commutes and unreliable internet access could continue their studies or homework during their bus rides. The goal of the program was to close the “homework gap” faced by many rural students. To date, more than 4,000 Berkeley County students have been part of the Rolling Study Halls program.