4/6/2018 – Google’s Caldwell Wi-Fi program goes national

Posted on: April 6th, 2018 by admin

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April 6, 2018

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By Virginia Annable
(Lenoir) News-Topic

 

An idea that started in Caldwell County is spreading across the nation to bridge the gap for children who live in areas with less internet access.

 

Adding Wi-Fi to school buses was the brainchild of Lilyn Hester, Google’s Southeast head of external affairs, who said she came up the idea two years ago while talking to Pat Triplett of the Education Foundation of Caldwell County.

 

“We started brainstorming and she explained to me that kids have really long commutes, and I thought that was interesting and I thought, ‘What if we turn that time into to learning time?’” Hester said.

 

Together Google and the foundation launched the program, called Rolling Study Halls, in 2016 on 10 buses at Gamewell Middle School.

 

When Wi-Fi was added to the buses at Gamewell Middle School, test scores went up and discipline on the buses changed overnight, Hester said.

 

“Before, the kids on the bus were sleepy, angry, loud,” she said. “After, bus drivers said they were shocked that their kids were so calm.”

 

Along with Wi-Fi on the buses, Google also provides computers for students to use on the bus. At Gamewell Middle School, the company gave sixth- and seventh-grade students used laptops, and provided some for students to check out.

 

The program was expanded in 2017 to William Lenoir Middle School, and plans are to continue adding Wi-Fi to more Caldwell County buses.

 

Google tested the program in a South Carolina school district last year, and this week the program launched in Deer Tail, Colorado. Google now plans to take the program to 70 buses in 16 other school districts.

 

Now that the initiative is a full-blown program led by a partner nonprofit, the Consortium for School Networking, Hester said she is happy to see her idea have such an effect.

 

“It is completely humbling,” she said. “It is so surreal for an idea that was birthed in the foothills of Caldwell County to be embraced nationwide.”

 

Hester hopes to see positive effects nationwide as the program expands. The program especially benefits children from low-income homes who don’t have access to the internet and technology that they need for their homework.

 

“When I first started looking into this, I learned about the homework gap,” Hester said. “It’s when kids who live in impoverished areas are disadvantaged compared from kids that don’t.”

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