‘Park and Learn’ program brings WiFi to state parks and historic sites to aid rural communities

Updated: Dec. 28, 2020 at 6:41 AM EST
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SOUTHEAST, N.C. (WECT) - The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is working to bring WiFi to rural communities in an effort dubbed “Park and Learn” to ensure students are able to continue learning despite the COVID-19 pandemic. State parks along with historic sites are being utilized as WiFi hotspots across the state.

“When the Coronavirus Pandemic hit North Carolina in March 2020 and k-12 school was disrupted, State government began a rapid response effort. As part of that response, remote learning has become a critical public health measure in maintaining social distance and continuing to educate our young people,” according to the NC DNCR.

All of the counties in the Cape Fear Region have some sort of free WiFi with locations in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender Counties.

“The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is leveraging resources at state parks, historic sites and other community hubs to expand internet access and bolster remote learning opportunities for students across North Carolina. The “Park and Learn” project, part of a broader effort called NC Student Connect, aims to provide free high-speed WiFi access to students in rural communities,” according to the NC DNCR.

The project will see the installation of more than 200 Park and Learn locations across the state and is being funded by the CARES Act.

“The Park and Learn project has installed WiFi hotspots at more than 200 sites across the state. When completed, it will bring WiFi access to more than 350 locations, including state parks and historic sites, along with libraries and schools. In addition, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has purchased more than 84,000 hotspots and distributed them to about 200 school systems or charter schools,” according to the state.

The cost of the project is $6.1 million provided by federal grant funding that expires Dec. 30.

“Expanding student access to the internet has become a priority as school systems across the state have adopted remote learning policies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Our state parks, historic sites and local libraries are locations that provide a safe and secure space for students to access the internet for remote learning. Partnering with Hometown Strong on this project to bring internet access to our students in rural North Carolina is one of the most important initiatives we have undertaken together.”

You can find a list of all of the Park and Learn locations online.

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