The Lancaster Rotary Club and the Northern Forest Center have teamed up to ensure that all students at White Mountains Regional High School (WMRHS) and Groveton High School can access the internet to fully participate in the distance learning necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Center donated $2,500 to the Lancaster Rotary Club to purchase mobile hotspots with prepaid data plans for students who lacked the internet access they needed, either because broadband internet is unavailable at their homes, or due to data limitations. “This should be enough data for them to use Google Classroom, watch assigned videos, email teachers and peers, maybe do a 10-minute hang-out for discussions,” said Rob Scott, WMRHS’s Career and Technical Education Director, who began distributing the hotspots and helping to set them up April 17.
WMRHS surveyed families by phone to see how many students would need a better digital connection to do their schoolwork and initially found 12 that needed help. As of April 28, Scott had delivered 12 data hotspots to WMRHS students, provided 10 devices to Groveton High School for students in SAU 58, and had 2 devices remaining.
“Families that used to have unlimited data packages are now trying to share 2 gigs among 5 people,” as they cut expenses due to lay-offs, said Scott. “It’s just not enough.”
Lancaster Rotary President Kendra Bell said the club purchased 26 hot spots with the Center’s donation and is dedicated to finding additional funding if necessary in case more are needed. “We serve many surrounding towns,” said Bell, who noted that the Rotary Club is also trying to meet local food needs. “We’re very excited to partner with the Center to get these devices out to students quickly.”
The students will use the hotspots, which come with 5 gigabytes of data prepaid, to access the data they need over cellular towers. Acting quickly has been a priority to ensure students have full access to their online learning programs and because the nationwide shift to working and learning from home has strained the supply of available devices.
"This sudden shift to mandatory 'work at home' and distance learning has made the digital divide so visible," said Center President Rob Riley. "The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the critical need for better broadband infrastructure in rural places.”
“We believe that Lancaster and other Northern Forest towns can have a strong and vibrant future,” said Riley. “But to get there, we've got to attend to today's needs — like ensuring digital access for students during this crisis — and tomorrow's needs, such as finding long-term solutions for high-speed internet in rural regions."
White Mountains Regional High School serves the towns of Carroll, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster, and Whitefield, N.H., as well as Lunenberg, Vermont. Groveton High School serves the towns of Northumberland, Stark and Stratford, and the Village of Groveton, N.H., as well as neighboring Vermont towns.
Lancaster Rotary Club members are dedicated people who share a passion for both community service and friendship. Rotary International brings together a global network of volunteer leaders who dedicate their time and talent to tackle the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.