Over the years, officials from the Petal School District have considered options for setting up Wi-Fi access points for students and parents during summer months when school is out, or for other times where normal Internet access may not be readily available.
That plan has been rushed into production with the current COVID-19 pandemic that has required the closure of public schools throughout the state and forced schools to adopt at-home learning measures for students of all ages. Petal officials - including director of technology Ryan Jensen, who also is co-owner of Jensen Computer Technologies in Petal - are now in the process of setting up buses in the parking lot of several churches throughout the area, each equipped with Wi-Fi that will allow students to remain in their vehicles while they complete school work or other assignments as needed.
"We've thought about ... how we can still keep kids engaged, and we really got the point where sometimes necessity is good for trying new things," said Andy Schoggin, assistant superintendent of the Petal School District. "So we looked at what it would look like for us to equip buses with this so that we could park them in those areas for kids.
"(Ryan) was on board, did some research, found the equipment we would need and talked to our head transportation mechanic. We can park them in our community so it would allow kids to connect, maybe in those areas where they don't have service or can't get to some of the other sites that we've updated around our community."
So far, Wi-Fi locations have been set up in the parking lots of Mars Hill Church, Sunrise Baptist Church, Carterville Baptist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church. A bus also will be set up to service the Leeville community soon.
Those locations will complement the free Wi-Fi spots already set up around town with the help of city officials, including at certain city parks, the Petal School District Central Office and Petal High School.
"(When we were setting up the buses), we wanted to be strategic and look at the map and see where there may be gaps as far as free Wi-Fi connectivity around our school district," Schoggin said. "We (wanted to) establish some of those in our county outside the City of Petal, to give kids some access where they may not have an opportunity to come to some of the free spots located in the city.
"So this will hopefully address that need for our kids. These are things where we look at what we can do to better serve our community, so this is something for us to attempt, and I think there will be some good yield from it."
Officials hope the concept will be useful even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, particularly with endeavors like sports or band that include traveling.
"Maybe this could be an opportunity to use it (while they're out), and we could use it for any other thing that might be useful for us," Schoggin said. "Again, sometimes necessity breeds those new ideas, so we're going to try that and see what it's like."