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Grant to allow Lake County students Internet access on buses

Many students in Lake County spend a lot of time on a bus going to and from school, sporting events or other activities — and soon the Lake Superior school district will be testing a way for students to access broadband Internet service while on the bus to get a jump on their homework before they get home.

LSSD is one of the largest districts in the state of Minnesota in terms of geographic area. Bus rides for students to get to and from school can be as much as two hours, and the rides to games or other events can take even longer because of the distances to other schools in the area. Thanks to a $50,000 Minnesota Department of Education grant recently awarded to the district, LSSD is going to install mobile routers — one on a bus in Two Harbors and another in Silver Bay — to allow students to access broadband Internet service on the road.

"We have students with a lot of windshield time in our district," LSSD technology director Kris Lee said. "They travel long distances to go to activities, they travel long distances to get to and from school and we just want them to take advantage of that time and allow them to use that all as working time."

Lee wrote the grant and said the two buses with routers probably will be the ones used to travel to and from sporting events, initially. The routers work within the Verizon cellular network, and the hope is that testing them on the activity buses will give the district a good sense of gaps in cellular coverage in the district. Lee hopes to also start testing the routers on buses that travel the rural routes that go out toward Isabella or Brimson, where network coverage isn't as comprehensive.

"Eventually, we are going to be testing them on those routes and if those routes allow us to have Internet access and it works, our plan is to add permanent Internet access on those bus routes," Lee said. "(Isabella is) one of the places where students have almost a two-hour bus ride to some locations, and we are going to give them that much more time that they can be working on homework and getting some of their things done that way."

In addition to the two routers installed on district buses, LSSD is going to purchase 75 Google Chromebook computers and 75 mobile hotspots to allow students without access to broadband Internet to use when they are away from school.

To start, Lee is focusing on evaluating students in grades 9 through 11 and their access to broadband services. Students without access or the means to get access, either because of their financial situation or because broadband Internet is not available at their home, will be able to use the Chromebooks and hotspots to create Internet access so they can work on assignments or use the Internet for research or other projects. Students will access the hotspots using their school accounts, and the Internet content will be filtered just like it is at the school buildings in Two Harbors and Silver Bay.

Lee said LSSD students are in "pretty good shape for being a rural community," as far as access to broadband Internet service. Lake Connections, the county's broadband project, has helped connect homes in outlying parts of the county, and other providers closer to Lake Superior give other options to residents in that part of the district.

"There are some financial barriers and some physical barriers for some of the further outskirts," Lee said. "We still don't know the exact percentage, we're going to find out when we take a sample of grades nine through 11. We're looking to expand and as we move forward, we're hoping to be able to add more and more grades."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

(218) 830-2210
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