Wireless Internet to serve 229 public schools
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is expecting more than $23.6 million in federal funding to provide wireless Internet service in 229 schools, officials said.
The school district's cost is slightly more than $2 million to go with the funds from the Schools and Libraries program of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said Debbie Karcher, chief information officer for the school district.
"This is an all-wireless initiative: routers, security devices, access points," she said, "that will allow us to provide Internet access in classrooms, lunch rooms, libraries, and it will overflow into the courtyards."
The 229 of 355 district schools to receive the wireless technology include elementary grades through high school.
"That's a large percentage," Ms. Karcher said. "We're lucky to get this [funding] amount."
"If a student has a phone, any device with Internet access," she said. "They can stay connected in the school."
Ms. Karcher said most of the district curriculum and student information is web-accessible.
"As long as the student has a device [phone etc.], they have access to grades, textbooks and rich content with videos."
"More of our content is becoming digital, and we want them to access it while they're in school," she said. "It [wireless] is better [than] hard wire. We'll let the student bring their devices and they can connect to our safe Internet."
Miami-Dade is the nation's fourth-largest school district with more than 400,000 students, an annual budget of over $4 billion and 53,000 employees.
Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, who took over the post in September 2008, has made digital transformation of the schools one of his priorities.
Digital content "can be almost immediately updated to reflect new scientific discoveries, unfolding political events, or changing world dynamics," Mr. Carvalho wrote in an article this year in District Administration magazine. "More importantly, it is the medium by which the youth of today communicate and create."
About two years ago, Miami-Dade schools launched "iPrep Academy, a technology-rich environment with full wireless access," he said. "The school combines online and face-to-face classes in a unique learning environment that encourages inquiry and creativity, in a student-led/teacher-inspired model."
"The school provides laptops for all students for classroom use and homework assignments, as well as internship opportunities in private industry and local government," Mr. Carvalho wrote. In 2012, "we've expanded the iPrep model to other schools and have found it to be an effective means of erasing the digital deserts in underserved communities where the learning deficit is often prevalent."
The district is expected to receive the funds through the FCC's e-Rate program, which was started in 1996 as part of an overhaul of the Communications Act of 1934. The e-Rate program's purpose is to help provide improved telecommunications networks to schools as well as access to the Internet to enhance education.
The government calculates the funds based on a school's participation in the National School Lunch Program and supports schools with the most need first. The lunch program, which provides free and reduced lunches to students, is based on income.
The district hasn't received the funds but they should arrive "soon," said Ms. Karcher. Once they do, she said, it will take three to four months — or a little longer — to install the wireless system, depending on the size of the school.
"Once we get the money, the vendors are ready," she said. Beyond the current federal funding "there may be a few more [schools] if we're lucky, but I am not optimistic unless there's an infusion of more money" in the federal program.
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