School district to offer free at-home Internet upgrade for students

Posted 8/9/19

PITTSBORO — Only 58.7 percent of Chatham County residents describe their Internet service as good, according to the 2018 Chatham County Community Assessment.

Apparently that’s affected Chatham …

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School district to offer free at-home Internet upgrade for students

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Only 58.7 percent of Chatham County residents describe their Internet service as good, according to the 2018 Chatham County Community Assessment.

Apparently that’s affected Chatham County Schools’ students, because the district is considering an internet service free to students that will take nothing out of the school system’s wallet.

Chatham County Schools is on the verge of finalizing a partnership with the 1 Million Project, an initiative led by Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, to provide cellular data Internet hot spots for every high school student to take home and use for homework and other school projects. District Director of Technology Keith Medlin presented the proposal to the school board last month.

“This is the real deal,” Medlin said. “Their goal is to put one million cellular data hot spots into the hands of students over the course of the next decade. There are a number of districts around us who are participating or are gearing up to participate.”

The 1 Million Project kicked off in 2016 by providing devices to 113,000 students in 31 states, according to the initiative’s website. The program added more than 250,000 students to its rolls over last school year.

“Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning,” Claure said in a 2016 press release. “But it’s a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack Internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them. All of us at Sprint are committed to changing this by providing 1 million students in need with free devices and free wireless connections.”

Already, 16 of North Carolina’s school districts and public charter schools are taking advantage of the program, including Chatham’s neighbors Guilford County. Medlin said Moore and Wake counties are also in the process of participating in the program.

The devices will be offered to every high schooler in Chatham County’s public high schools. Medlin said a survey will be deployed when school starts later this month to gather interest.

The hotspots will provide 10 free gigabytes of data per month, which Medlin said accounts for 900 emails, 900 webpage visits and 10 hours of instructional videos — “a pretty substantial amount of data.” The Internet provided will be filtered, meaning websites promoting alcohol, tobacco, hate speech and pornography will be blocked, just like Internet connection on school campuses. Medlin added that it’s enough data to allow for schoolwork, but non-educational websites that provide streaming services will deplete the available data quickly.

“If they decide they’re going to binge-watch some Netflix, they’re going to burn through their data pretty quickly,” he said. “So they’ll find out that as their teachers ask them to do things, they’ll need that data.”

Every student in Chatham County already has access to laptops as part of the district’s 1-to-1 program. John McCann, the district’s public information director, said upgrading available technology is necessary to meet the district’s demands of its students.

“Digital teaching and digital learning are ingrained in our instructional approach,” McCann said. “Our high schoolers and most of our middle schoolers are allowed to take home those devices for more learning. So constant, reliable Internet access is a must both on our campuses and in our communities.”

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