• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Churches, farm bureau offer Wi-Fi for virtual learning

Students living in rural areas of the county with spotty internet service or those with no internet at home can use free Wi-Fi at Versailles Baptist Church and Woodford County Farm Bureau’s parking lot for remote learning. Midway United Methodist Church, St. Matthews A.M.E Church, Midway Presbyterian Church and Midway Christian Church have offered help in different ways, including Wi-Fi support, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. “What it shows is that they understand that there are needs throughout our community. And their willingness to help try to meet those needs … just speaks volumes to how much they care about our students and about our school district,” he said. “… It certainly means a lot.” Versailles Baptist Church opened its doors if Woodford County Public Schools need additional space for students who do not have internet at home, senior pastor Michael Cabell said. “We were thrilled to be able to do that,” he said. As of last Friday, the school district has been able to meet the needs of students at its adult education classroom space in Thoroughbred Square, so none have used Versailles Baptist for virtual learning, he added. Eleven student workstations – socially distanced – have been available in Versailles Baptist Church’s fellowship hall since last week, Cabell said. “We love our community. We want to be a big community partner,” he said. “… We had reached out to the school system when they went all online” for virtual learning to begin the school year. Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) began offering free, public Wi-Fi service at 155 office locations across the state Aug. 26 and planned to expand to its 42 remaining offices over the next several weeks, according to a KFB news release. Woodford County Farm Bureau’s parking lot at 423 Lexington Road in Versailles typically has two or three cars using the free Wi-Fi Internet signal, KFB Insurance agent Courtney Roberts said. “It’s something great our company’s doing,” he said. “... It’s a company-wide initiative for every county in the whole, entire state.” Kentucky Farm Bureau, a grassroots and agriculture-based organization, recognized a lack of broadband Internet service in rural areas of the state, he added. Kentucky Farm Bureau has been advocating for broadband Internet service in rural areas of the state for several years, said Woodford County Farm Bureau board vice president Patty Perry. Her daughter’s family lives on Steele Road, so she understands the problems associated with Internet service in rural areas of Woodford County. “Their Internet is spotty at best,” Perry said. “She has been working diligently with Windstream to get upgrades, which are not available in their area. And if it rains, no luck.” Her three grandchildren have already had to spend two days at her home in Versailles for Internet service to do their schoolwork, she said. “Reliable broadband Internet service, especially in the rural parts of our state, is something that far too many Kentuckians still don’t have access to in their homes,” said KFB President Mark Haney. With the demands for virtual communication, including the tens of thousands of students starting the new school year learning from home, “Internet connectivity is a must,” he added. Woodford County Farm Bureau has gotten a lot of positive feedback on social media for offering free Wi-Fi service, Roberts said. In addition to opening its fellowship hall to students with a need for Internet service, Versailles Baptist Church donated $1,000 to the school district to purchase 20 MiFi (portable broadband) devices for students who don’t have Internet at home, Cabell said. He said Versailles Baptist is also working on an initiative to provide volunteer supervision for elementary-age students whose parents are working. “We’ve been soliciting volunteers to help with that. So, hopefully, we’ll be able to offer that in the next week or two,” he said. Up to 15 students could be accommodated under the state’s current childcare restrictions, he added. Hawkins said Woodford County Public Schools could not meet all the needs of students in the midst of a pandemic without additional community support. “You always want to do the very best you can,” he said, “but there are certain situations where additional help is needed.” If needed, students who need Wi-Fi access at the Adult Education Center are being provided transportation, he said.

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