Updated 4-24-20 at 1:53 p.m.
CULLMAN, Ala. – Area schools received donations this week from Pepsi Cola Bottling Company to help acquire internet hot spots for students throughout Cullman County. General Manager Terry Shabel presented Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette a check for $6,000 Friday morning. Cullman City Schools received $3,000 and St. Bernard Preparatory School received $1,000.
Shabel explained that Pepsi services Cullman, Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties.
“It’s a donation from Pepsi Cola Company-giving back to the community,” he said. “We’re the only locally-owned soft drink company and we care about the community and we want to contribute and help these kids that are having to learn from home.”
Shabel said that after speaking with Barnette and other local school officials, he felt helping provide students with access to WiFi was a priority.
“My boss stepped up and said that we have four counties, Cullman’s one of them, and we did it in all four counties,” he said.
Shabel’s boss graduated St. Bernard College in 1974 and for that reason, $1000 was donated to his alma mater.
Barnette said, “We sure appreciate it. There’s definitely a need there. We rolled those (hot spots) out from everyone that wanted one from seventh grade up, but that leaves several thousand kids from sixth grade down that don’t have access.”
He added, “I appreciate that Pepsi saw the need and stepped up to meet that need. Part of this will be used for some connectivity things and some will be used for devices and some things like that, but it will all go towards kids. We are very appreciative and ready to get back to some type of normalcy too. We look forward to closing this year out and hopefully coming back in the fall and getting back into a regular routine.”
Barnette reported that the number of students without internet access is getting smaller. Some have mobile hot spots but still struggle due to poor coverage in many areas in Cullman County.
Right now, grades K-6 have not been offered connectivity but Barnette said, “That’s something we will be looking at. We may not, this close to finishing this school year, roll out a ton of hot spots to them now, but if we have to start off with virtual in the fall, we might be doing something then. I just want to make sure that we put what’s needed where it needs to be put.”
County students without internet access are relying on paper assignments.
Barnette explained, “To try to keep the interaction to a minimum, they (teachers) put together two weeks’ worth of lessons and they gave them out on the 13th. Then they email it; most parents do have emails on their phones, so they have emailed some packets and they are allowing them to take pictures of some lessons and they submit it that way. They have gotten creative and it’s made us really think out of the box.”
As part of the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” many cell phone providers are offering 60 days of free hot spots to their customers. This includes Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Spectrum.
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