Local businesses agree to double as study halls for Lakota students

Lakota Schools’ WE Are Connected program was just launched and has enlisted more than two dozen local businesses who have agreed to allow students — who are paying customers — to use their business’ WiFi for Internet studying.
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Lakota Schools’ WE Are Connected program was just launched and has enlisted more than two dozen local businesses who have agreed to allow students — who are paying customers — to use their business’ WiFi for Internet studying.

Lakota Schools are enlisting the help of local businesses as part of its new computer laptop distribution plan to every junior high and high school student.

More than two dozen local restaurants and other retail outlets have partnered with Lakota, allowing students to use their business WiFi networks to study on their new laptops.

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The district’s new WE Are Connected program involves participating businesses agreeing to let students use their seating and tables to study, with many of the teens using their new Chromebooks to do homework and research.

Students must be paying patrons but that may simply mean a soft drink or order of fries, said local business managers, who then will provide the business’ password to their WiFi system so the teens can have internet access.

It’s all part of the school system’s historic conversion toward digitalized learning and away from traditional textbooks. The initiative, said school officials, reinforces the idea that students — with the proper digital devices — can learn anywhere, not just inside classrooms during school hours.

The new Chromebook loaner program will be expanded to freshman and high school students in January. The digital devices, which are specifically designed for school work with heightened internet security functions, cost the district $3.1 million from the school system’s permanent improvement tax funds.

Lakota’s annual operating budget is $214.5 million.

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A sizable portion of Lakota’s 16,500 students have no regular access to WiFi to do internet-based school work. Nearly 20 percent of the districts’ students come from families poor enough to qualify for federally funded free and reduced school meals and many are expected to take advantage of the new business location study sites.

“We value our partnerships with our local businesses and appreciate their support of our students,” said Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller.

The Chromebook and WE Are Connected initiative are “enabling our students to expand their learning opportunities beyond the walls of the classroom,” said Miller.

Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota, said students will be able to recognize which businesses are open for them to come in and study.

“Our partners are placing WE Are Connected stickers in their windows to let our students know that they are welcome as patrons and are able to use the business’ WiFi for schoolwork,” said Fuller.

The Chromebook and business partnerships are only a few weeks old, but Lana Burnett, manager of Coffee Beans & Brew on Yankee Road in Liberty Twp. and located a short walk from two Lakota schools, said it’s already proving popular.

“We love having their business and having them around,” Burnett said of the students.

“We get to talk to them while we enter our password into their Chromebooks. And then they can use our WiFi as much as they want. It’s really good for business because they can do their homework here,” she said.

On weekday afternoons, shortly after school, the last few weeks has seen more students coming into the spacious coffee shop, which features numerous seats and tables.

“It’s really interesting watching how the students work” on their new laptops, she said.