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Tippecanoe County To Install WIFI Hotspots Aimed At Helping Students With Online Learning

Teacher Loralie Swan helped spearhead the county's effort to find grant funding fo WiFi (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Tippecanoe County will use roughly $127,000 in grant money to place WiFi hotspots where students have struggled to access high speed internet. 


Teachers say the last year has underscored the digital divide for students. 

Even before the pandemic, school officials say some students, especially in more rural areas, struggled to get online to do homework.

When students were sent home for weeks at a time due to COVID exposures, they fell further behind.

Loralie Swan is the English Language Learner Teacher at Burnett Creek Elementary. She said many of her students come from families who only speak Spanish, which made it difficult to set up internet in their homes. During the pandemic she would go out to student’s houses to help get them online. 

“I was in one mobile home for an hour on the phone with Comcast because they couldn’t get the help,” she said. “The person on the phone, his wife was a teacher, he was like ‘I understand.’”

Burnett Creek Elementary (WBBA News/Ben Thorp)

Swan helped at least ten different families get connected. And if those families moved - Swan would go out and start that process all over again.  

“It was a huge hassle… I was happy to help them but I could see how hard this was,”she said.

Juan Hernandez-Lopez is one of the students Swan helped. 

“When I didn’t have internet I couldn’t do my homework, I couldn’t talk to my teacher, or talk to Ms. Swan,” he said. “Now that I have internet I can do my homework, I can talk to Ms. Swan, and I can talk to my teacher.”

The county is planning to place WiFi hotspots at the Point West Mobile Home Park, the Maple Mobile Home Park, and in the more rural Buck Creek. All of the areas were identified by the Tippecanoe School Corporation as places where students were struggling to get online. 

Superintendent Scott Hanback said the school district has been growing its digital curriculum and sending chromebooks home with students.

“If the only internet in your home is a mobile hotspot through your cellular data that may not be enough for their chromebooks to be fully functional to engage their learning,” he said. “That’s what makes this so important.”

Hanback said internet is already available in all of their school parking lots. 

“While that sounds good in theory not everyone has the time or the transportation capability to get to our parking lots after school hours or on the weekends,” he said. “So these areas will allow students to be able to stay in their home neighborhoods and also receive high speed internet access.”

Rob Ford is with Wintek, the company providing the internet hotspots. He said the grant, provided through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, helps incentivize building internet infrastructure in places that tend to get overlooked. 

“It’s really places where the private sector has not invested the infrastructure in those rural communities because it doesn’t make financial sense to do so,” he said.

Ford said students and community members will have to be within three-hundred feet of the hotspots in order to get a good connection. 

Swan said she’s already working with a local church to raise some funds to put picnic tables around where the hotspots will be. 

“Hopefully everything is going to go back to normal next year but kids will still have homework to do,” she said. “Any year, kids will still have homework to do.”

The WiFi hotspots are expected to be up and running sometime in the fall. 


NOTE; Tipmont REMC, which runs Wintek, is a financial supporter of WBAA.