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Calif. school district puts Wi-Fi on wheels to close digital divide

In 2016, the Internet is essential for a student trying to do their homework
School district gets creative to provide Wi-Fi for families 02:20

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. --When 9th grader Anisa Perez takes the bus home from school, she does her homework using the Wi-Fi network on her school bus.

Anisa, a student in the Coachella Valley, California school district, uses her iPad on the bus CBS News

The bus essentially works as a large mobile hot spot, thanks to Coachella Valley school district superintendent Darryl Adams.

He's a former rock musician, who believes technology is the key to a quality education. Under his direction, Coachella became the first school district in the country to put iPads in the hands of every student -- Pre-K to 12th grade.

But that's when Adams uncovered a new problem: most of his students, like Anisa, don't have Internet at home.

"I would be here sometimes on Friday night and drive by school and there would be parents with kids in the car sitting there doing their homework."

More than 95 percent of the students there live below the poverty line. Many just can't afford Internet access at home.

High school senior Michelle Penital said she would go to Starbucks when she needed Internet access. "I would do my homework with my friends."

Coachella Valley school district superintendent Darryl Adams points out the router on a school bus, which helps his students have Wi-Fi access outside of school CBS News

"To us that was unacceptable, we could do better," Adams explained. "And we were thinking, well we have a hundred buses here. Why don't we put routers on the buses and park them where there is no connectivity?"

So last year, that's exactly what he did. One of those buses is now parked next to Anisa Perez's trailer park, which never had the internet before.

Yolanda Lopez, Anisa's grandmother, says she can now get her work done. "If she has homework that has to be done on the iPad, if that bus was not there, she could not do it."

After the students are dropped off, the buses park in various neighborhoods so students can access the internet at home CBS News

Eight Wi-Fi buses are now left overnight in various neighborhoods, and the school district is now turning salvaged cars into even more mobile hot spots.

"I have made the joke that I will put a router on a pigeon if I have to, and fly them around the neighborhood. Whatever it takes to get these kids connected, I will do," Adams said. "It is essential to education."

The graduation rate in Coachella is now up by eight percent, with even more students on the road to success.

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