The Donna school district will launch a multi-million dollar effort to install a dozen Wi-Fi towers across the city in hopes of providing internet access to its students in preparation for the looming virtual fall semester.
The green light was given by the school board at a meeting on Tuesday.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the region have been mandated to be completely online-based until Sept. 27, adding pressure to local school districts to ensure students have the means to stay engaged with their teachers throughout an unprecedented year.
Donna ISD’s first day of school is set for Aug. 24, and Superintendent Hafdeh Azaiez said it’s imperative to move quickly and efficiently to build the towers, being that over half of the district’s student body has claimed to not have internet access at home.
According to a recent survey the district conducted, 52% of its student body of about 14,500 does not have a Wi-Fi connection at home.
Installing the 12 towers is estimated to cost around $3.7 million, which Azaiez believes will be a worthwhile investment. The superintendent said Edinburg-based WiFiRus will be conducting the installation.
“It’s a dire need to have internet; it’s a huge need,” Azaiez said. “… Because nowadays, internet is supposed to be perceived not as a privilege, but as a necessity, like electricity or water.”
The towers will be built on school properties across the city, and construction is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks. Azaiez said the plan is to build four towers at a time.
He explained that in Donna, many of the district’s students live in rural neighborhoods that lack the infrastructure to support high-speed internet access, or any connection at all.
“It’s difficult here, especially in the rural areas of Donna to have internet access, so we are excited to be able to bridge that gap and take care of that digital divide,” Azaiez said.
Each tower will provide wireless internet access within a 1-mile radius.
Joshua Tarawinga is a fifth-grade student at Runn Elementary in Donna, and in a school district news release, he said internet access at home will help him get through the school year. Joshua lives in the outskirts of the city, and will be one of the hundreds of students who will benefit from the towers’ installation.
“We need internet access because sometimes we have to do some of the work online,” he said. “If we don’t understand something, we can look it up or we can watch videos to get help.”
His parents, Julius and Jalie Cazares are grateful for the project, and are looking forward to supporting Joshua through his last year of elementary school.
“Now, it’s up to us as parents to make sure our kids are focused on doing what they are assigned to do,” they said in the news release.
The project is one part of the district’s efforts to equip its students for the virtual school year. Several hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots are available for those who live outside of the reach of the towers.
Additionally, each student will be issued a device: iPads for pre-kindergarten students to second graders, and Chromebooks for third grade students and up. These were a $5.7 million purchase.
“Our hope is that our students receive the best instruction, education while staying home in a safe place, while also engaging and interacting with their classmates and teachers,” Azaiez said.