Schools in Lancaster County give thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots to families

Schools in Lancaster County give thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots to families

LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. — Nearly 15,000 students in Lancaster County will return to learning on Monday. All of them will be doing at least some remote learning. Either five days a week, or three days a week for those on A/B day schedules.

Many families need a boost to be able to learn at home. The rural county has some dead areas, particularly in Buford to the east of Lancaster, and the Kershaw area south of town.

Some families also can’t afford the cost of high-speed internet. This week, those families are getting some much-needed help.

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On Thursday, outside Van Wyck Elementary School, parents were driving up to a row of tables, and getting free technology: a Wi-Fi hot spot to make it possible for their children to learn at home. Fourth grader Stephanie Castro was riding with her mother.

“We don’t have any of those devices at home, so I think it’s gonna be a good opportunity for us to learn,” she said.

To get a Wi-Fi hotspot, parents filled out a survey showing they don’t have internet access at home, and also meet income requirements related to the federal poverty level.

Each hot spot device is either with Verizon or AT&T, and can be swapped out if that wireless carrier doesn’t work. Blake Stacks is the I.T. expert for Lancaster County Schools.

“We check with the folks as they pick them up. See which one they feel like works best for their area, where their household is,” Stacks said.

The Lancaster School district has 5,290 of them, thanks to more than $300,000 in CARES Act money.

For many, like Maria Paramo, it’s the only way their children can do school work online at home.

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“I wanted to make sure she stays on track,” she said.

For now, a mix of remote and in-person learning is the norm. After a long, boring summer, Castro is just fine with that.

“I’m really excited to learn at home and at school too, because we’ve been so bored at home, and we don’t know what to do,” Castro said.

One lingering issue is continuing funding for the Wi-Fi devices. As of now, the CARES Act money only pays the monthly fees for the hot spots through December. Additional funding will be needed for the program to last through the school year.