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Next stop: Internet for kids that need it

Joseph Abraham - Co-editor
Posted 2/11/21

LIBERTY -- Serving the community is a big part of the Sullivan BOCES mission. So is teaching students practical skills they can apply in a real world environment.

A new project has accomplished …

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Next stop: Internet for kids that need it

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LIBERTY -- Serving the community is a big part of the Sullivan BOCES mission. So is teaching students practical skills they can apply in a real world environment.

A new project has accomplished both.

New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Rolling V Bus Corp., Sullivan 180, and Sullivan BOCES have partnered to create an innovative remote-learning environment providing Internet access for students in need: a mobile classroom in a converted school bus. It allows students to learn remotely while remaining socially distant.

The mobile classroom debuted at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon in front of Liberty Middle School.

Students and staff from Sullivan BOCES' career and technical education (CTE) welding and construction programs were instrumental in conceptualizing and creating the workstations for the mobile learning environment.

One of these students was Tim Dirie, a junior at Liberty High School who is in the CTE Welding program. He was one of the students who built the workstations' frames.

“I enjoy building things with my hands, and it was an added bonus that I could help other students and the community with this project,” said Dirie. “I think the mobile classroom is a perfect solution for those who do not have Internet for their classes.”

The Liberty CSD is the first of the county's districts to utilize the bus.

“I'm so grateful that the Liberty Central School District has been chosen to pilot this innovative approach to bringing much needed technological resources to our students,” said Liberty Central School District Superintendent Dr. Augustine E. Tornatore.

According to Tornatore, the district has been providing “hot spots” to Liberty students without Internet access, but that isn't always enough. The WiFi signal can still be weak, and some local students lack a proper place to do their schoolwork. Isolation has also been a challenge for many children.

“This bus brings us a step closer to leveling the playing field,” he said. “The pandemic has exposed many inequities faced by students throughout New York, and Liberty is no exception. I know our students will benefit greatly, and I thank everyone who helped to make it happen.”

School districts can reserve use of the mobile classroom on their remote instruction days through the communications department at Sullivan BOCES.

PUTTING THE ‘WHEELS' IN MOTION

Development of the concept began when the group discussed the need after the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in the spring of 2020.

The project came to fruition when Assemblywoman Gunther obtained $7,000 for the initiative, and Rolling V repurposed a school bus.

Seats in the bus were either removed or rotated to create separate workstations/desks for students, and electric and Internet access was installed.

Gunther called the partnership between her office and the aforementioned groups a fantastic example of how they can work together to provide innovative and vital services to the students of Sullivan County.

“Thanks to the Mobile Classroom, students throughout the county will be able to access high-speed Internet to help them learn remotely as we make our way through the pandemic," said Gunther.

The pandemic closed many schools and inspired remote learning. Most students and teachers use Google classroom, requiring consistent, reliable online access. However, some students in rural communities lacked online access to their classrooms due to no broadband, poor connections or insufficient hotspots.

Hurdles for some also included the inability to travel to where Internet access was available. Students facing these obstacles were left with no online learning options - an unacceptable situation for Assemblywoman Gunther, Rolling V, Sullivan 180, and Sullivan BOCES.

“This pandemic has shown that reliable broadband internet service must be expanded throughout the County, and we have seen the immense hardship placed on families that currently lack this access,” said Gunther.

“This is a creative short-term solution to help our children meet the new demands of schooling while we continue to push for a more robust broadband infrastructure in the County,” Gunther added. “I am always proud to see the productive and inventive collaborations that our community creates in response to crisis and I am proud to have been a part of this project.”

Rolling V CEO Phil Vallone said that they are invested in [the county's] students and could not sit by and let the COVID-19 pandemic impair their opportunities to learn.

He said, “This bus will provide an educational haven for students who may have nowhere else to turn to gain online access to their classes and studies."

‘BUS TO THE FUTURE'

Sullivan BOCES District Superintendent/CEO Dr. Robert M. Dufour said that it's exciting the mobile classroom is available to all Sullivan County students, not just BOCES students.

“We are proud to collaborate with Assemblywoman Gunther, Rolling V and Sullivan 180 to create educational access in this new, exciting way. This project builds upon our mission to support learning opportunities within our community," said Dufour. “Our teams worked well together and were thrilled to come up with this innovative mobile classroom.”

Rolling V and BOCES plan on continued access to schools and community organizations like Sullivan 180, the Center for Workforce Development, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sullivan Allies Leading Together (SALT) and Sullivan Renaissance. Other options include job fairs, education tours, showcasing of community programs, etc.

“We're not sure whether we're going to be retrofitting another one [bus],” said Dufour when asked about the possibility of more mobile classrooms. “We're going to see how it works, how much it's used. But post pandemic we're hoping it becomes a community resource.”

Michael Brooks, Vice Chair of the Sullivan County Legislature and Chair of the Sullivan County Broadband Local Development Corporation (LDC), praised Sullivan BOCES and Rolling V for being creative and collaborative, as well as providing a much needed service.

Brooks added that, “... it's also evidence of why we need to provide high-speed wireless Internet service across Sullivan County, so that our kids get all the educational opportunities they deserve, right where they live, 24/7. That's exactly what the Sullivan County Broadband LDC is aiming to achieve, and we are thrilled to have BOCES District Superintendent Robert Dufour as a member of our LDC's talented and accomplished board."

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