One of the biggest problems when the schools all went to virtual learning over concerns over the Coronavirus, aside from the inherent difficulties of learning through a computer screen, was internet access to begin with. To alleviate the problem in Westmoreland County, the School Board had approved the distribution of Kajeet hotspots to students without ready internet access. The primary problem, however, was in the monthly data limit of the hotspots, which were strained, to say the least, by the daily Zoom calls.

As of last week’s School Board meeting, however, the data limit problems are due to be a thing of the past. Cathy Rice, the Deputy Superintendent, announced that a new batch of hotspots, the Verizon Jetpack, had arrived. The key advantage these new devices held over the Kajeets? Unlimited data.

“That means that the data restrictions that we had been forced to deal with will soon be going away,” she explained. “We’ll have unlimited data, which means teachers and students can engage in more real-time instruction and leave their cameras on. I think it will dramatically improve what can be done with instruction.”

However, there is a little process to go through. According to Rice, once the data filtering on the new hotspots are set up, then the tech team will hold drive-thru distribution days for each of the schools, allowing parents to turn in the old Kajeet devices in exchange for the Verizon Jet Packs. The plan for this to happen is no later than December 4, or the first week.

“We’re hoping it can be done sooner, but it all depends on how quickly that third party can set up the data filtering,” she continued.

In addition to the new Verizon devices, another batch of 644 Chromebooks arrived, which have all been unpacked and configured.

“They are ready for delivery, and are going out to Montross Middle School and W&L,” she concluded. “Before long, we’ll have enough Chromebooks for the students to have one at home and one at the school, which the elementary school students already have.”

These developments will undoubtedly be a huge help if the School Board decides to drop things back into a remote learning model, though as of the time of this writing, they were staying on a hybrid schedule.