SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Help has arrived for Santa Ana siblings Brianna and Jaden Montes who have been struggling with spotty WiFi since school started.
"It's going to be way easier than it was before," Brianna said.
The black van on the curb below their apartment window pumps out a 5G wireless signal that allows not only the Montes siblings, but also other students in the densely populated neighborhood, to connect to the internet so they can attend class.
The program is a response to families — especially those in communities hardest hit by COVID-19 — telling Santa Ana Unified School District that connectivity was the biggest challenge of remote learning.
"To not only help students better learn, but maybe their parents don't have to go out as much to look for technology or students don't have to go out to the local McDonald's or local Starbucks to connect to the internet," Fermin Leal, SAUSD director of communications, said. "So, this way, they can do it at home and they can do it safely."
The pilot program was currently operating in five neighborhoods identified as WiFi dead zones, with vans parked on local streets. Soon, the district said, school buses will be deployed to help with connectivity — putting drivers who would normally shuttle students to and from school back to work by helping those same kids connect to their classrooms.
"Each van is going to reach approximately 200 students," Kevin Watson, JFK Transportation president, said. "As the program continues to grow, we're able to reach approximately tens of thousands of students."
But for Brianna, the mobile WiFi program offers more than a way to connect with her classmates and attend school — it allowed her to regain her confidence.
"It made me feel like I wasn't going to be that person that I was before, because of the internet and because I couldn't do all of my work and get it done," she said.
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