Student’s proposal gives kids WiFi

(photo and story courtesy of Fremont Tribune)
James Farrell, Fremont Tribune

Nine Fremont Public Schools students now have access to WiFi at home, thanks to a project by Fremont Middle School seventh-grader Beau Shanahan.

The project was part of the Fremont Area Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Contest, an annual contest that invites area youth to pitch philanthropic projects and receive funding to carry them out.

Beau’s project, however, is different from many of the others that have been approved in the past. It’s the first time in its four-year history that the Youth Philanthropy Contest will fund a pilot program, one that aims to provide several area households with WiFi for a year.

Beau says he got the idea after Fremont Public Schools recently provided new Chromebooks to every Fremont Middle School student, as part of a drive to give each student access to their own Chromebook.

“Kids don’t have WiFi at home,” Beau said. “With our new Chromebooks, everything is going to be on the Chromebooks — at least most of everything is.”

According to Melissa Diers of the Fremont Area Community Foundation, Beau came to the Foundation with “a great question”: How would the new Chromebooks affect kids who don’t have access to WiFi at home?

“The schools are wonderful about anticipating those kinds of issues whenever they embrace new technologies or provide these opportunities for students and families, but there’s only so much that the schools themselves could do,” Diers said. “So we thought, as a community, maybe we could explore this alongside with Beau and see if this is something that we need to try and find a way to make a sustainable program.”

As part of the project, the schools will collect data to see if the selected students see academic improvement with WiFi access at home. Throughout the course of the year, Beau will have to keep the Fremont Area Community Foundation updated on his findings and present a final evaluation on what the data shows.

For the project, Beau worked with Fremont Middle School teacher Jayme Bieker and assistant principal Todd Niehaus. He presented to school faculty and administration to explain his project. School faculty then helped Beau identify the students and families who would be eligible.

Beau also got help from the Fremont Public Schools Foundation, who offered to match the Fremont Area Community Foundation’s $1,000 grant. That additional money will either go toward extending the amount of time that the households will have access to the WiFi, or toward adding additional households to the program.

After meeting with faculty, Beau then met with the families of those students to pitch them his idea. There, he learned about some of the issues that families have faced without WiFi, says Beau’s mother Shawn Shanahan.

One family with four kids told Beau about their challenges.

“They were taking one of their kids to the library every single night because someone had homework,” Shanahan said. “And so they were pulling a parent out of the home environment and taking them to the library so that the kids’ homework could be completed.”

Beau also met with Spectrum, the company who would be providing the WiFi, to work out the logistics.

On Thursday, Beau and the Fremont Area Community Foundation presented a check to Fremont’s Spectrum location. In the end, eight households signed up for Beau’s pilot program, and four are currently set up to receive WiFi. Between all four houses are nine students from seventh grade up to the high school level.

“The project originally started off with seventh grade, just Beau’s team — it then grew to seventh grade as a whole,” Shanahan said. “But what we’ve also learned because of it being a pilot is that it’s nine students throughout our education system from seventh grade to high school that had the need, and were in the household with the seventh grader.”

Long-term, once the data is collected and Beau presents the findings, Diers says they will discuss the pilot program’s efficacy and how to proceed.

“With a pilot, it’s a learning opportunity, so we’ll see,” Diers said. “We’ll see if this makes a difference.”

Beau said that it felt “really good” to carry out the program.

This year’s batch of seven projects selected for the Youth Philanthropy Project will receive more than $6,000 in funding. Recently, North Bend Girl Scouts Charity Vyhlidal and Alexa Brodd presented 100 comfort blankets to members of the Dodge County Mutual Aid Association.

Other projects have included “Project Santa,” which features Archbishop Bergan Key Club members providing presidents to youth at the Jefferson House, and a 4-H club’s efforts to sew and fill bags with hygiene products for the residents of Care Corps.

Beau Shanahan, center, and Melissa Diers of the Fremont Area Community Foundation, right, present a check to Brenda Hansen, assistant store manager at Fremont’s Spectrum location, to help several area households receive WiFi.