Seven Oaks, Bell MTS team up to deliver internet service to students in need

School divisions are spending tens of thousands of dollars on residential router installations and internet service to keep all students connected to their online classes, no matter their family’s financial situation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/04/2020 (897 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

School divisions are spending tens of thousands of dollars on residential router installations and internet service to keep all students connected to their online classes, no matter their family’s financial situation.

This week, Bell MTS launched an internet plan for Manitoba K-12 divisions to help students without internet service access e-learning while schools are closed due to COVID-19.

Technicians have already been deployed to the first of 200 residences in the Seven Oaks School Division, to install service for families who have relied on paper school work packages until present.

“The comparison between a worksheet and what you can do online, it’s night and day,” said superintendent Brian O’Leary, who oversees 25 north Winnipeg schools attended by a total of 12,000 students.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS From left: Daniel Lampa (9), Maggie Lampa (15), Angie Lampa, Felix Lampa and Niqui Lampa (13), in their home. Seven Oaks school division lent Daniel a Chromebook, as all three children need devices to do their schoolwork.

Seven Oaks has already handed out almost 1,300 spare Chromebooks to students in need. But the division also recognized approximately 200 families had little use for devices if they didn’t have internet access.

For weeks, division administrators have been considering their options. Initial ideas included parking school buses equipped with broadcast routers in neighbourhoods with internet needs and turning schools into WiFi hotspots. Currently, Louis Riel and River-East Transcona divisions are also formalizing similar arrangements with Bell MTS.

The move will cost Seven Oaks approximately $40,000, O’Leary said. That’s for 200 families to get internet at a download speed of 20 megabits per second and uploads of three Mbps. Savings from layoffs, field trips and suspended programs, are being redirected for the bill.

“The consequences of these kids being left further and further behind far outweighs the dollar cost on this,” O’Leary said. “We want public school to be an equalizer; we want to narrow the gaps, not widen them — whether it’s food hampers or door-stop visits that educational assistants make or getting you a device or connectivity.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Angie Lampa said that adding the extra device has been especially helpful for Daniel in French immersion, who can now access translation websites.

Angie Lampa, a mother of three, called the division’s approach “super wonderful.”

Lampa’s family has internet access, but they initially struggled without enough devices for her children in grades 4, 7 and 10. She’s grateful they’ve been able to borrow a Chromebook from Seven Oaks, and her husband could refurbish an old computer to bring their device count to three.

“All my kids need to check their assignments in Google Classroom and submit all their assignments, so they really need to have access to the internet, good connections — and they need to have a device of their own,” Lampa said, adding the extra device has been especially helpful for her son in French immersion, who can now access translation websites.

Across the city, in the Louis Riel School Division, 644 computers have been handed out to families. The division has also identified 138 homes without internet access. River-East Transcona is currently identifying needs in its division.

“(Access) is very important. If a young person isn’t able to connect to the teaching that is occurring online using forms like Teams– Microsoft’s version of Zoom, they’re left out of that community.” – Louis Riel superintendent Christian Michalik

“(Access) is very important. If a young person isn’t able to connect to the teaching that is occurring online using forms like Teams — Microsoft’s version of Zoom, they’re left out of that community,” said Louis Riel superintendent Christian Michalik.

Tom Simms, co-chair of the Community Education Development Association, applauded divisions and providers for addressing access issues together. Although, as an advocate for equal education, he questioned if the supplied speeds will meet e-learning requirements.

Michalik acknowledged the available Mbps aren’t perfect, “but adequate” for class video conferencing. “Beyond this pandemic, we really do have to talk as Manitobans about making the internet affordable for folks,” he said.

Bell MTS did not confirm the total number of divisions it is working with, only that all divisions can access the plan. A spokeswoman said Tuesday the month-to-month service will be available until schools re-open.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 7:17 PM CDT: Updates numbers of computers given out in Louis Riel School Division.

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