Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The Surprising Thing That’s Giving Low-Income Students Internet Access

January 13, 2015
The Surprising Thing That’s Giving Low-Income Students Internet Access
So far, two buses in the Coachella Valley Unified School District have Wi-Fi technology. David McNew/Getty Images
These vehicles do more than transport kids to and from school.

In the evening, when students are supposed to be at home toiling over their homework, the school buses that carry them to school usually sit idle in a lot. But one school district in Salton City, Calif., is putting these vehicles’ downtime to good use.

How so?

By installing Wi-Fi routers inside the school buses and parking them in neighborhoods where many low-income students lack Internet access. For as long as the battery on the bus lasts, the community can use the free Wi-Fi — something that could have huge outcomes, considering that about half of the low-income students in the U.S. lack home Internet access, according to Nichole Dobo of the Hechinger Report.

The only other choice for these kids is to stay at school and use the Wi-Fi there to complete their homework. Darryl Adams, superintendent of schools of the Coachella Valley Unified District, tells Dobo, “I had kids sitting outside my office yesterday because they want to connect to the Internet at, like, 6 o’clock at night.”

When low-income students stay after hours to hop online — missing the school bus home — it creates difficulties for the parents who must come fetch them, as many of them live an hour’s drive or more away.

Thirteen-year-old Jasmine Jimenez says that she’s looking forward to the day when the district might enable Wi-Fi on the bus during its route. “It won’t be a big bug to ask your parents to pick you up,” she said.

School district officials haven’t completely worked out the kinks of the system. So far they’ve only been able to install routers in two buses out of their fleet of 90. Drivers park the two buses on lots in trailer parks and must obtain permission from the owners to do so. But the biggest problem is that the battery tends to die after only one hour of use, an energy crunch which some have suggested might be solved by installing solar panels on the buses.

Still, the Coachella district is determined to try to make the program work. “Come on. We can do better than that as a nation, especially for our low-income families and our disadvantaged families,’’ superintendent Darryl Adams says.

MORE: Every Kid Needs An Internet Connection to Thrive In School. This District Has A Plan to Make it Happen