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Dogwood Health Trust, Local Education Organization Partner To Distribute Hotspots To WNC Students

Lilly Knoepp
Dogwood Health Trust is partnering with Western Region Education Service Alliance(WRESA) to connect students by distributing access to hotspots across 11 school districts.

Students of all ages have had classes moved online for over a month because of COVID-19. However, in rural Western North Carolina access to the internet has been an additional barrier to education.

 For example, 35 percent of students in Madison County do not have internet access. Today, Dogwood Health Trust announced it is partnering with Western Region Education Service Alliance(WRESA) to connect students by distributing access to hotspots across 11 school districts. 

“This is a game changer for students, it gives them a choice they didn’t have before, and impacts multiple families living in the same residence,” said Dr. Will Hoffman, superintendent, Madison County schools. 

Asheville City Schools was also identified as a district in need of internet access.

 "Even after distributing all the hotspots within our district, about 50 families were left without internet access," said Matt Whiteside, Asheville City Schools' Director of Instructional Technology and Media Services. “In fact, because we kept a running list, we were immediately able to get hotspots into the hands of students who needed them most."

Dogwood distributed over 500 individual hotspots and organized public access by hosting over 100 hotspots in parked school buses across the region. 

WRESA has been able to facilitate identification of the buses to host the hotspots and locations in which to park them in areas for students to be able to download or access their assignments. Installing the hot spots into buses will allow for social distancing while also alleviating the needs for Internet access felt throughout many rural areas of the region.

“Equitable access to education has taken on new meaning with the COVID-19 crisis,” said Antony Chiang, CEO, Dogwood Health Trust. “We are honored to partner with our regional school districts to reduce disparities especially for rural and lower income families, while supporting the importance of social distancing to reduce transmission.”  

Dogwood welcomes any people or organizations who want to partner to fight COVID-19 to email covid@dogwoodhealthtrust.org or visitcovidwnc.org to explore opportunities.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.