MPS, other schools, providing thousands of mobile internet devices

Schools, libraries, and nonprofits have distributed mobile hotspots to keep students connected to the virtual classroom.

But there will be technological issues when public schools in Milwaukee, the state’s largest school district, go virtual, said Ben Ward, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

“I guess there are some big challenges,” Ward said.

MPS will temporarily switch to virtual learning, starting Tuesday. The district’s goal is to resume in-person learning on January 10.

This year, MPS said, it plans to distribute up to 9,900 additional hotspots and 56,000 Chromebooks, in addition to the thousands of devices already provided to students. The effort is funded by a federal grant of $ 14 million.

According to the nonprofit Digital Bridge, approximately 60,000 households in Milwaukee do not have adequate means to connect to the Internet. Therefore, for many families, mobile devices provided by schools are essential.

“I think overall we’re doing pretty well,” said Bob Peterson, chair of the Milwaukee Public Schools Board.

“I don’t imagine us being virtual for a long time,” Peterson said, but if more mobile devices are needed, the district will provide them.

“We want every kid to have their own Chromebook,” he said.

The Kenosha Unified School District is in much better technological shape than it was a year ago, said Kendra Mulwana, executive director of the Kenosha Education Association which represents teachers in the district.

“It’s not necessarily easy or practical to move quickly to virtual learning, but we now have a lot more experience in this environment,” said Mulwana.

“We can get the technology and technical support to people very quickly,” she said.

Elementary students in the Greendale School District will return to in-person learning on Tuesday, while its high school and high school students will be virtual learning the rest of the week.

Every student in the district has a Chromebook or iPad, Superintendent Kim Amidzich said.

For mobile hotspots, Amidzich said, the district is opening its technology office so students and families can pick up a device to take home.

City Forward Collective, an education-focused Milwaukee nonprofit, provided several thousand hotspots and paid for 12 months of service for needy families.

Digital Bridge, a nonprofit that distributes refurbished computers to other nonprofits and needy families, nearly tripled the size of its operations during the pandemic.

Milwaukee’s public library system has seen its online usage skyrocket as more people have turned to neighborhood branches for internet access. Libraries aren’t open as early as when school starts, but they stay open after the school day is over so students have a place to do their homework.

The library system has doubled the number of mobile hotspots it allows customers to browse and now has nearly 400 Chromebooks, an affordable alternative to Windows laptops, also available.

“But we never have enough hot spots,” said library director Joan Johnson.

In the long run, it is also not a permanent solution for households to connect to the Internet.

“High-speed Internet access should be a public service, not a luxury,” Johnson said.

Sophia Carson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

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