Local students win challenge with solutions to the digital divide
Five middle school students from Krueger School of Applied Technologies won the third annual SA Smart City Challenge’s Mayor’s Cup this week. Their project, called the FreeFi Bus, is a mobile internet café with free Wi-Fi, free-use computers, beverage and snack machines.
On May 26, the students — Abigail Wessa, Kirsten Scott, Tyler Wilson, Richard Giblin and Hanna Femmel — presented to a panel of local industry and governmental leaders a plan that included funding and implementation.
This year’s Smart City Challenge focused on finding solutions to the “digital divide.” The challenge started in January with 300 students on 66 teams from five school districts. The field was winnowed to 10 teams after presentations in February.
The impact of the digital divide has been deep in San Antonio during the Covid-19 pandemic, as families need access to digital tools to educate children and work from home.
Students presented solutions including digital rental stations, Wi-Fi kiosks, adding hot spots to apartment complexes in low-income areas, educational campaigns and “internet food stamps.”
“The work these students have done during this challenge will pave the way for the future of San Antonio and create the revolution we need to tackle digital inclusion,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement. “The presentations presented real, innovative and actionable solutions to tackle the digital divide, one of the biggest issues facing our community in light of Covid-19.”
A team from John Jay High School Science & Engineering Academy called Senior SPARK! won second place and the Hitish Nitani Resourcefulness Award for Tiny Cyber Libraries in which users would pay a monthly fee for access to Wi-Fi and digital devices housed at local malls and retail spaces.
“This year, the digital inclusion topic produced real solutions that address a very current problem. The SA Smart steering committee and community partners will present these ideas to organizations that can carry them forward and help our city address the digital divide that is impacting our community,” Cliff Zintgraff, chief learning officer at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology and chair of the SA Smart steering committee, told the Business Journal.