Public school districts across the North Olympic Peninsula are finding ways to to bring internet access to students in a time when COVID-19 has forced schools to operate remotely.
Each district has been working with families and provided many students with laptops to do school work or are delivering paper packets for places where reliable internet is not available, officials said.
In addition to the districts, other organizations have stepped up to offer free Wi-Fi at public sites such as the community centers and libraries in Jefferson County.
The Jefferson County Public Utility District has set up several Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the county that are free to use. They offer speeds of 10 to 100 megabytes per second for both upload and download speeds.
Here are the locations.
• Port Townsend Visitor Center, 2409 Jefferson St.; can be accessed throughout parking lot area.
• Dana Roberts Substation near the intersection of Clay and Lawrence streets in Port Townsend; park in the lot on Clay Street.
• Hastings Substation near the intersection of 20th and Sheridan streets in Port Townsend; use the area pullout along Sheridan Street.
• Jefferson County Airport, 191 Airport Cutoff Road; park in the lot to the left of the Spruce Goose.
• PUD Customer Service Office, 210 Four Corners Road; the office is closed, but the parking lot is available.
• Marrowstone Island Fire Station, 6693 Flagler Road; park in front of the shop, not the station.
• Chimacum Substation, 1261 Chimacum Road; internet can be accessed in the parking lot out front.
• Gardiner Fire Station, 2000 Old Gardiner Road; authorities ask that WiFi users not block station access.
• Quilcene Substation near the intersection of McMinn and E. Quilcene roads; park in the space to the right and do not block the gate.
A Brinnon hotspot is also in development.
Port Angeles School District is providing internet access via buses, which are driving to different neighborhoods and providing a cellular signal via Wi-Fi to students within 400 feet of the bus, officials said.
Superintendent Marty Brewer is excited about the service.
“This is an exciting time because this allows us to bring internet into neighborhoods via the traditional school bus,” he said.
”By installing this technology in a school bus and parking that bus in a neighborhood, students can access the internet and lessons from their phone, tablet, or computer. This is significant for our students.”
The PASD Wi-Fi buses will be at the following locations Monday through Friday:
• 9 a.m. to noon — Evergreen Village (on the service road between Evergreen Village and Evergreen Court), 2203 W. 18th St.; Elwha Veterans Center parking lot, 247 N S’Klallam Drive; Fairview Elementary parking lot, 166 Lake Farm Road; Fairview Bible Church parking lot, 385 O’Brien Road; Hilltop Ridge Apartments parking lot, 1914 S. Pine St.
• 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Center front parking lot, 2851 Lower Elwha Road; House of Learning parking lot, 291 Spokwes Drive; Gasman Road and Lemmon Road; Gales Addition at the end of the cul-de-sac, East Seventh Avenue off Gale St.; Evergreen Court Apartments, grassy area next to fence, 2202 W. 16th St.
More information on the school bus Wi-Fi can be found at www.portangelesschools.org.
The Port Townsend Education Foundation and StrongerTowns have launched the Connected Students Initiative, which aims to connect all students to at home internet access in Jefferson County, said Sarah Rubenstien, communications director for Port Townsend School District.
The initiative received a grant for $25,000 from the COVID Emergency Response fund, which can pay for about 60 percent of the non-connected in Port Townsend and Chimacum, she said.
So far, students in Port Townsend and Chimacum can be supported, but more funding is needed to expand into Quilcene and Brinnon.
In addition to the initiative, the district also has been helping families who qualify to sign up for a low-income internet service provided by Wave Broadband, Rubenstein said.
For some rural families in the county, internet access is difficult to access and the district is working on ideas of how to reach those families, she said.
“The hope is to work with families that are easier to connect first, then problem solve the rest,” Rubenstein said.
Organizers hope to continue the work past the current COVID-19 pandemic and connect all students to internet access at home in the coming years, she said.
More information on the Connected Students Initiative can be found at http://jeffcocsi.org/. To get connected, families have to go through their district directly.
Sequim School District checked out 20 individual Wi-Fi hotspots to students who needed them and a Sequim has a variety of publicly available hotspots, said Superintendent Robert Clark.
Some students in rural areas are given paperwork packets because they can’t connect to the internet, Clark said.
“It’s just futile to try and do online learning with them,” he said.
Among WiFi hotspots that are publicly available are the the parking lot outside JCPenney at the Sequim Village Shopping Center, 651 W. Washington St.; the Sequim Middle School parking lot at 301 W. Hendrickson Road; and the Sequim High School parking lot at 601 N. Sequim Ave.
Chimacum families who need assistance from the Connected Student Initiative need to contact the district directly.
The district set up a publicly available WiFi network at the main campus called CHSD-Guest. This can be accessed from the parking lots in front of the Chimacum School Commons; behind the tennis courts; at the district office; and between the elementary multi-purpose room and the old elementary school, according to the district’s website.
Wi-Fi also is available at the Tri-Area Community Center.
Students can access the public Wi-Fi networks at the Quilcene Community Center and at the school district parking lot.
The district is working with East Jefferson Rotary and the Connected Student Initiative to eventually be able to connect students homes to have internet access, said Superintendent Frank Redmon.
The school district has been uploading all the necessary learning materials to USB-drives and distributing them to students who can’t access the internet, so all students are getting the same information, Redmon said
Many parts of Brinnon lack high-speed internet and so the district has been using a combination of online learning and paperwork packets that are delivered to students without internet access, said Superintendent Trish Beathard.
Students can access Wi-Fi from the school parking lot and at the Brinnon Community Center. Two more possible Wi-Fi locations are in the process of being set up, she said.
Quillayute Valley schools
The district provided 70 families with hotspots but since broadband strength in Forks can be limited, the district also has been distributing paperwork packets, said Superintendent Diana Reaume.
Some families prefer the work packets over internet learning, she said.
“It’s really blended all over the board,” she said.
The district has ordered equipment to provide Wi-Fi via buses but the equipment won’t arrive until after the school year is over. The option will be available next year if needed.
Crescent School District in Joyce offers WiFi in the school parking loty at 50350 state Highway 112.
Superintendent Dave Bingham was not available for comment last week about community hotspots.
Quileute Tribal School
The school district purchased “jetpack” hotspots from Verizon and provided them to the families who didn’t have internet access at home, said Superintendent Mark Jacobson.
“I think every student at our school has internet access through devices we provided or they already had,” he said.
‘The jetpacks are great and Verizon has been good to us fee wise.”
Cape Flattery could not be reached for comment.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].