District 214 helps hundreds of Elk Grove students gain internet access
The internet is a vital tool in education, but hundreds of students found themselves struggling to overcome technological barriers during the pandemic.
About 450 Elk Grove High School students live in the adjoining mobile home communities known as the Oasis Mobile Home Park and Blackhawk Estates. This unincorporated area is surrounded on all sides by roads and gated industrial parks, leaving residents landlocked. All students in the district have a school-issued device, but many of these students do not have access to reliable high speed internet.
"Consider how often we all depend on the internet in our regular interactions for goods and services. Access to dependable, high speed internet is essential in today's world and that includes classroom learning experiences. However, many families must focus on providing basic necessities over access to online resources for students," said Dr. Lazaro Lopez, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning at District 214.
The district's IT Department recognized this problem. In spring 2020, the district distributed hotspot devices to the Oasis Mobile Home Park and Blackhawk Estates population, but there were limitations. Data plans were capped to three gigabytes a month, which in many cases, was not enough to support all of the Zoom classes. The district accommodated the expenses, but there needed to be a long-term solution.
In fall 2020, the IT Department sought to set up a remote wireless system in the mobile home communities that could instantly connect to the high school network. This system would provide the same high-speed broadband service to the students' school-issued devices for a seamless connection.
To help fund the project, the district applied to various grants. It received $25,000 from the Best Buy Foundation, $10,000 from the Illinois Secretary of State for Digital Network Access, as well as funds under the federal CARES Act.
"Federal funding has been instrumental in addressing the countless challenges faced during the pandemic. Providing the needed infrastructure to support broadband access for our students at this location and throughout the district will have a long-term impact beyond the current crisis," said Lopez.
In September, CDW helped install a new wireless point-to-point bridge system, with one point on the water tower of Oasis and one at Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights. The range can be accessed by students in Blackhawk Estates, as well as District 59 students in both communities. This system, believed to be the first of its kind in the state, creates an on-campus internet experience. All district-issued devices can connect automatically and students have access to licensed software that they could normally only use at school.
"Ensuring that all of D214 students have access to quality internet is a passion of mine and our Technology Services Department. This project is the first step in helping to create ubiquitous access for all students within the D214 boundaries. I am so thankful of our supporters and proud of all of the teams involved in making this dream a reality," said Anthony Schlorff, the director of technological services for District 214.
"Providing students access to the same essential resources we all depend on, along with guided support at D214 to discover their future, ensures they have the best opportunity for economic mobility by fully realizing their potential to compete and contribute to thriving local communities," said Lopez.
The management staff at Oasis Mobile Home Park has offered its cooperation to the district. In recent years, Oasis has provided free space for the district to host a tutoring center, summer camp, lending library and office space for D214 counselors and social workers.