OXFORD — With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many families to stay at home, the Oxford Housing Authority has launched an initiative to ensure that several adjacent apartment complexes would have access to affordable internet.
Executive Director Xavier Wortham took notice of how the lack of internet was affecting the academic performance of local children and hopes that the installation of hotspots around the area will mitigate some of the education issues and make life easier for them and their parents.
“This is such a big issue right now,” Wortham said. “A lot of children were not able to get online to access virtual learning while others didn’t have cars to drive to other parts of our community where hotspots were available.”
Through a survey conducted by Wortham and his staff, they concluded that 39% of the residents the Oxford Housing Authority directly serves did not have access to the internet, which motivated Wortham to come up with a plan that would rectify the problem.
After engaging in several discussions with different companies about installing hotspots, the Oxford Housing Authority came into an agreement with EnVision Enterprise Solutions, which is a Raleigh-based company that specializes in assisting businesses through the use of disruptive technologies.
EnVision President James Friedrich was eager to help Wortham and the Oxford Housing Authority with their plan to provide internet access to children in their local community, and came up with a plan that he believed would be efficient and cover the most ground.
“We had heard that Xavier was trying to get internet connectivity for the children that live in the communities owned by the Housing Authority,” Friedrich said. “We have extensive experience deploying outdoor WiFi and we have a product that we had been marketing for online learning by using outdoor access points that would help light up the community with WiFI, and Xavier really liked that idea.”
EnVision ended up helping the Oxford Housing Authority install hotspots on existing camera poles situated inside Broughton Terrace Apartments, Juniper Court Apartments and Maple Ridge Apartments that would provide an internet connection to the residents that live there, with Spectrum being the service provider.
Another complex the Oxford Housing Authority serves in The Villas of Knotts Grove will have internet access through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources with Spectrum services being unavailable in that area.
Wortham said that the access points in The Villas of Knotts Grove will only serve approximately 70% of the complex’s residents, but he is currently working on a permanent solution that will ensure easy internet access for everyone.
Wortham said that he hopes that the solution comes sooner rather than later, as he does not want to see the children who live in The Villas of Knotts Grove or any others in his vicinity continue to struggle with adapting to the current educational environment.
“In order for children to do well in school, we have to address the barriers that they face,” Wortham said. “If a child can’t log in, they can’t be counted present on the attendance. Virtual learning is difficult for a lot of children and there hasn’t been a lot of focused help.”
Installing hotspots is the first part of a three-step process for the Oxford Housing Authority towards providing easily accessible internet within their communities, with Wortham now turning his attention on making sure families have enough devices in their homes.
Beginning in December, the Oxford Housing Authority formed a partnership with SmartStart to give tablets and laptops to parents so they can communicate with teachers on how their children are doing and discuss areas of improvement for them.
The final phase involves assisting parents and children that are struggling with virtual learning. Wortham knows that everyone has reacted to virtual learning differently, but he wants the Oxford Housing Authority to be involved with mentoring and helping residents adjust to the current system until the pandemic subsides.
Friedrich said he was thrilled to assist Wortham in his mission to help local residents achieve internet connectivity, and he intends to maintain this focus for EnVision with other communities that are still trying to adjust to life in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re looking forward to keeping this partnership going,” Friedrich said. “We’d like to find other housing authorities just like the one in Oxford and other communities that also want to bring internet connectivity to those who can’t access it, especially when it comes to schooling.”
Wortham has tried to keep local residents in good spirits throughout the pandemic, and he hopes that internet connectivity throughout the apartment complexes will ease some concerns and help put a greater emphasis on the importance of education.
“People are really excited about this,” Wortham said. “The final tests are being conducted right now, so when we do go live and provide everyone the access codes, everything will be taken care of with no issues.”
The Oxford Housing Authority will pay for the installation of the access points and be billed monthly for the services. Access codes are expected to become available to residents in the complexes on either Monday or Tuesday.