Multiple programs at the Lenoir Housing Authority have provided residents with devices and more access to the internet in recent months, and a new support program can help students take full advantage of those resources.
In April, the housing authority partnered with Caldwell County Schools to provide students living in LHA neighborhoods with Chromebooks, which were bought using coronavirus relief money. Building on that partnership, LHA recently joined the school system in purchasing 20 Kajeet Wi-Fi hotspots for students.
Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency Coordinator Jennifer Robson said that students were struggling when schools moved to remote learning in March, and LHA wanted to step in to help keep students connected to their schoolwork.
“I called all of our families multiple times beginning in March to see how they were doing, what kind of internet service they had and what they needed,” she said. “Some of them have more than one child, and some of them are paying too much for internet, so those are the ones we chose first in terms of giving the hotspots out.”
Executive Director Michael Dineen also cited another initiative, a partnership with Verizon Wireless that installed free community Wi-Fi in the Harrington Street neighborhood.
“This neighborhood has 26 residents who now have access to the internet, and we look forward to possibly implementing that with other neighborhoods in the future,” he said.
Although the focus has largely been on making it easier for students to access the internet during the coronavirus pandemic, Dineen said that he hopes projects like the hotpsots and the community networks will be beneficial for older residents as well.
“We do have a few residents that are working from home that need better internet access,” he said. “That’s always one of our goals, to eliminate that digital divide and allow them access to the internet so that they can work, apply for jobs or maybe even further their education.”
With more homes able to go online, Robson retooled LHA’s regular afterschool program — which has been on a hiatus since schools first closed in March — to focus on helping students with schoolwork. Right now, there is one volunteer working as a tutor for residents, whether in-person or online, and Robson hopes that more volunteers will join in the new semester.
“We’re working on providing that individual support for students,” she said. “We’re taking the precautions” by maintaining social distancing and limiting sessions to one student at a time “and cleaning the site afterwards.”
Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.