Salamanca CSD uses unique tech to connect students to internet during pandemic


SALAMANCA, N.Y. (WIVB) — A Southern Tier school district found a unique way to connect students to the internet during the pandemic.

They’re hoping it encourages a career in STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

Dr. Graham Hayes teaches earth and computer science at Salamanca High School.

He says each student is assigned their own laptop.

But he noticed one day before the pandemic, not everyone was taking them home.

“I was kind of like… well why not. You have a computer but they didn’t have internet access at home. So anything they were going to rely on, like the schools webpage for assignments wouldn’t do them any good without internet,” said Dr. Graham Hayes.

Besides economics, there are a few reasons a house may not have internet.

The Salamanca City School District covers a rural area.

Students may live on a street without cable connection or in a valley too narrow and too steep for a cell signal.

Dr. Hayes tapped into his area of expertise to solve the problem.

He used technology called “Geographic Information Systems” to determine which students didn’t have internet and what homes could receive cellular communication.

It sounds unique.

But, if you’ve ever used Google Maps, you’ve used GIS technology.

“The green dots represent all of the student locations the purple lines that ducks in and out of the surface of the earth is the district boundary,” explained Dr. Hayes.

Dr. Hayes took the terrain and compared it to the location of cell towers in the area.

The red dots show the students who didn’t have internet.

The district delivered devices that work like a cell phone hotspot to each home.

Data can be loaded onto the hotspot so students can continue their work during the pandemic.

“I feel like the one positive in this pandemic it’s really pushed a lot of school districts to reevaluate what are we doing to help bring, to help close the digital divide in households,” said Aaron Sraus, the STEAM instructional coach.

GIS technology can help with flood prevention and improve road conditions.

Dr. Hayes hopes this use of technology encourages students to learn a technical skill that could go a long way in life.

“I’m hoping that this visibility will get kids to go oh this looks like fun. This looks interesting… I can do a lot of career changes and options with that,” said Dr. Hayes.

Melanie Orlins is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.

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