When the school district of New Britain, Conn. started remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, it discovered that about one in 10 students didn’t have easy access to Wi-Fi.
The district was able to source the hardware to create hotspots but didn’t have a method to distribute the internet to about 1,000 students who needed it.
Enter Art Schaller, president of Schaller Auto World, who runs three dealerships in the greater Hartford area. Schaller came up with a plan to create mobile Wi-Fi hotspots in strategically parked dealership cars.
The plan was easier to conceive than execute. Each part — the routers, adapters, SIM cards, and antennas — came separately at different times. “Everything was on backorder, the supply chain was in disarray,” said Schaller, “which with what’s going on, everyone can understand.”
When it finally all came together in mid-May, Schaller sent 16 of his drivers to housing blocks to park cars based on the district’s map of student internet need. Per the district, Schaller rotates the cars to assigned spots for morning and afternoon shifts.
‘This became a lot more work than I expected,” Schaller said. “But when the cars went out it finally became meaningful.”
“The greatest news was that after the first week, we reached 94% of the students who had not been attending (online) school.”
At this point, if Schaller needs to sell one of those parked cars, a driver picks it up and rotates the equipment to a new car. Yet as business life returns to normal — to some extent — and car sales return, both Schaller and the district understand this isn’t a permanent solution.
The school district is working on one for the new school year, Schaller said. For now, Schaller is rolling with it. “It's a small price to pay to make sure kids get to finish school,” he said.