City of Temecula creates WiFi gardens to help local students with virtual learning
Before the pandemic, approximately one in five students in California lacked high-speed internet or an appropriate computer to do school work at home. When the pandemic hit and most students started doing virtual learning, there were even more challenges. Internet speed limits, especially for households with multiple students, created another barrier to distance learning. The city of Temecula set out to solve this challenge by creating WiFi gardens in public parks where students can use city WiFi free of charge to complete their schooling.
Many students received cellular internet access devices from the Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD) and the city’s WiFi gardens provide another point of connectivity helping students circumvent speed limit challenges they faced when logging on at home.
“We live in a world where access to technology can directly impact the outcome of your life and I am always looking for ways to make technology available to all,” said IT Manager Paula Crowell.
The city’s information technology (IT) department worked with the school district to understand the technical needs surrounding virtual learning including how much data was required, what learning management systems the students were using, and if there were video apps that required more bandwidth. They also worked together to ensure that students in need were aware of the new resources.
“I reached out to our vendor and told them what we hoped to do,” contined Crowell. “They reviewed our plans and approved a “try before you buy” trial program, which was a game-changer. We were now able to access the products without the risk of restocking fees or purchasing the wrong equipment. As result, the city was able to leverage existing infrastructure to provide a stable WiFi network at a minimal cost.”
City IT staff worked with the Geographic Informaion System department to review the parks’ aerials and look for tree-free routes to the existing buildings. Today, the city provides free WiFi at most city facilities and in Old Town Temecula.
“For many families, preserving continuity of learning is nearly impossible outside of the traditional in-person school environment, due to a lack of connectivity and other resources,” said Council Member Zak Schwank. “Bridging the digital divide with our WiFi garden projects is an important component in helping to provide an equitable opportunity to internet access for all families in Temecula.”
The project built upon previous collaboration between the city and TVUSD which included creating a Homework Resource Center at the library to provide computers and after school help with homework. Since COVID restrictions limited access to this valuable resource, extending the current system by creating WiFi gardens was supported by the city council and Temecula Community Services Commission.
“The WiFi gardens and volunteer support program is just one example of the long history of collaborative efforts between the city and TVUSD,” said TVUSD Superintendent Jodi McClay. “Programs like this and the Homework Center at the Ronald H. Roberts Temecula Public Library are both designed to provide additional support for Temecula Valley students.”
The city’s partnership with the school district to provide WiFi gardens for students in need showed how innovation, collaboration, and dedication are at the heart of Temecula’s efforts to meet the rapidly changing needs of residents throughout the pandemic.