MEC offers Cassopolis students WiFi use in its parking lots

CASSOPOLIS — The Cassopolis community recently got a little more connected.

Local electric cooperative Midwest Energy and Communications is offering Cassopolis Public Schools students and staff WiFi use from its parking lot at 60590 Decatur Road, Cassopolis, and in the parking lot at its vacant building across from Bergmann Veterinary Medical Center, 901 E. State St., Cassopolis. Organizers of the project said the goal of the project is to ease the stresses students and staff without internet connections may face with distance learning procedures put in place in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anyone using the service is asked by Cassopolis Public Schools officials to continue to follow state guidelines on social distancing.

Cassopolis Public Schools Superintendent Angela Piazza said she was grateful for the partnership with MEC. Although the district has been working to deliver WiFi hotspots to students without internet, Piazza said hotspots can still be unreliable in rural areas.

“We are appreciative, and this really helps,” Piazza said. “I’m just so proud of how the community has come together. It feels really good to have that support. We are doing everything we can to support our students, and we love to know the community supports them as well.”

Currently, Cassopolis Public Schools’ leadership is working on extending Ross Beatty Jr./Sr. High School’s WiFi into its parking lot, as well. Piazza said this would add an additional resource for students and staff for the remainder of the year. While said she said she understands working out of a parking lot is not as convenient as working from home or the school, it removes a barrier to students working through the district’s flexible distance learning requirements.

“Our goal is to make learning is accessible to all students,” she said. “We wanted to eliminate all those barriers.”

Patty Nowlin, vice president of corporate communications at MEC, said extending MEC’s WiFi into its parking lots and inviting the community to use it was a way for the co-op to give back during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are a community business. We are local, and we see the need,” she said. “We have the infrastructure to do this, so this was a matter of leveraging what we have in place to help those who desperately need it right now in our community.”

While the initiative was implemented with schools and learning in mind, Nowlin said the parking lots and their WiFi was available to anyone in the community with a legitimate need, particularly businesses. Soon, MEC will be announcing additional locations where students and community members without an internet connection can access WiFi. Nowlin said MEC’s goal is to offer a spot in each of the counties it serves.

“It is the right thing to do,” Nowlin said. “We want to make sure people have access to the resources they need, and we happened to have the resource in this case.”