Online learning is great if you’re a student in a community with good Wi-Fi in homes, campuses, libraries, and other spaces. However, for areas without this infrastructure, students put into distance learning scenarios are at a disadvantage. However, the real promise of online learning is its ability to help level the playing field and transform education in areas that don’t have these established amenities.
This is one area where public-private partnerships can really shine, and RUCKUS is excited to be partnered with non-profits like Link & Learn to begin working to help close the digital divide.
I spoke with Todd Mouton, who manages Link & Learn as Executive Director of the Pugh Family Foundation, about how we’re partnering with the Lafayette, Louisiana school district to begin providing filtered academic internet access to students at three schools on the north and east sides of the parish.
Tell me about Lafayette Parish School System (LPSS), and how this initiative came about?
We’ve been working with foundation partners in support of students and educators in our parish schools for many years, and when the pandemic hit, along with our partners at the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation, we pivoted to begin working on improving connectivity. Louisiana is an amazing state that has historically ranked poorly in terms of connectivity and academic outcomes. LPSS serves approximately 32,000 students, 64% of whom are economically disadvantaged. So, along with our business and community partners, we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference.
What are the goals of the Link & Learn project, and how are you achieving them?
We want to help make learning opportunities and resources available to all LPSS students around the clock, and throughout the year. So, we’ve joined forces to create and operate a filtered academic Wi-Fi 6 network for students near three LPSS campuses: Northside High School (grades 9-12), David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy (grades 6-12), and J.W. Faulk Elementary (grades pre-K-5). The initial pilot project will serve about 1,100 LPSS students across two miles.
Tell me more about the technology that supports the project?
The network was designed by a CommScope RUCKUS solution provider. It will utilize more than 200 CommScope RUCKUS Wi-Fi 6 outdoor access points, and LUS Fiber backhaul. The full network is on schedule to launch during the 2022-2023 academic year.
What are some of the advantages of Wi-Fi 6 for education environments?
Wi-Fi 6 supports more density, which means more students can use it simultaneously without creating a drop in performance or reliability. And it delivers better bandwidth, so students can use it for streaming video, videoconferencing for distance learning, and other types of rich media that really bring learning to life.
As the world becomes more connected, people are learning in lots of different environments. Does the Link & Learn program extend beyond classrooms?
Yes, we’re expanding access to all kinds of environments. We’ve expanded Wi-Fi to cover parking lots on all 44 LPSS campuses, and we’ve deployed 45 Wi-Fi-equipped school buses. We’re also developing in-person and virtual CAFÉs (Community and Family Engagement) teams for eight LPSS schools.
One area that sometimes gets forgotten is support. People new to these solutions aren’t always comfortable working with them. How is the program helping people make the most of all this great connectivity?
We really want students, parents, and staff to take advantage of these new opportunities, so we created an LPSS Link & Learn Help Desk staffed by school-site-based LPSS technology coaches. We’ve also launched an LPSS in-home academic internet assistance program to provide low-cost wired solutions. We’re also building a Link & Learn Wi-Fi Locator Map so people can quickly find available wireless connections nearby.
Where is the project going in the future?
We’re continuing to work with multiple partners to develop strategies to help drive and incentivize student usage of our pilot network. This project has the potential, across multiple phases, to make learning opportunities ubiquitous for all the district’s students parish-wide year-round.
RUCKUS is excited to be partnered with non-profits like the Pugh Family Foundation to begin working to help close the digital divide.