Internet Hotspots for Education, Keep Learning Moving Forward

Burke County United Way (BCUW) is initiating a $218,000 campaign to provide 800 hotspots to Burke County Public School low to moderate income families.

Burke County Public School (BCPS) students will engage in remote online learning environments this academic year. All 12,400 BCPS students will begin the school year remotely; of those, 2,300 students (approximately 1,900 families) have signed up for the new Virtual Academy in which the students will commit to online learning for the first semester of the year. There is strong potential that all students may continue online learning in some capacity during the 2020 – 2021 academic year.

“Our Board explored options on how we can positively impact learning given the COVID-19 crisis. We know from previous conversations that broadband connectivity is an issue within our county. While we are not able to make immediate inroads on increasing broadband infrastructure, we felt that if we could offset the cost of internet services for economically struggling families, that could be a tremendous help”, said Travis Mull, BCUW Board President. NC Child data reports that 56.3% of children in Burke County are living in poor or low-income homes. This number is directly proportional to the 58% or 7,192 students eligible for free and reduced meals last year in BCPS.

According to “Mo” Schwind, Executive Director for BCUW, “following conversations with BCPS, we determined it more cost efficient to purchase internet hotspots.” BCPS’s Information Technologies department indicates that each hotspot will provide unlimited data for the user and will provide continual internet access for the entire school year. In a recent survey completed by BCPS, one connectivity question was asked to determine the percentage of families that have reliable high-speed internet access in their home, 10.5% of families indicated that they did not have reliable high-speed internet access.

The school system identified 1,100 hotspots to meet the needs of students and families. BCUW provided $5,000 in seed money to purchase 18 hotspots to initiate the campaign, combined with ones the BCPS previously had on hand and recently purchased, there remains a need to purchase 800 additional hotspots. “Yes, $218,000 is a lofty goal, but I can think of a no more worthy cause than to ensure our students, our future leaders, have the resources that they need to be academically successful. It is important for learning to keep moving forward. We invite all entities, corporate sponsors, foundations, other nonprofits, and individuals to help us help Burke County students,” says “Mo” Schwind.

Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Larry Putnam said, "People's true colors come through in the midst of a crisis, and I am proud to say that our community is shining brightly in the midst of this pandemic. It has been a different and difficult spring and summer, and we are going into an unpredictable fall. We are so grateful for the Burke County United Way's efforts to raise funding to purchase hotspots for our students during this season as we start school remotely. In life and in education, technology is a great equalizer. Burke County Public Schools has ensured that each student has a take-home device to use not only now but also throughout their K-12 educational career. As we know, reliable access to the internet is needed to help keep students connected to the classroom. This effort from United Way to rally the community to provide this valuable piece of connectivity will be a game changer in the lives of so many of our students and for that we are extremely grateful."

If you are interested in contributing to this project, visit www.bcuw.org/hotspots or text the keyword hotspots4ed to 313131.