SCS to benefit from E-learning program

Dr. Wesley Johnson, director of digital literacy and accountability, makes a presentation to the Sampson County Schools Board of Education.

With assistance from state and federal officials, students attending Sampson County Schools will have more access to Wi-Fi technology.

Gov. Pat McCrory recently announced that North Carolina will receive more than $23 million to increase Wi-Fi access to classrooms throughout the state, as part of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-rate program. The amount will bring the total funding for the initiative to about $40 million. Funding will give North Carolina a chance to meet the needs of technology by extending high performance Wi-Fi to more than 20,000 classrooms, which benefits 375,000 students.

“By providing all students in North Carolina with access to high-speed wireless Internet in the classroom, we will ensure that our students from rural corners of Dare County or Cherokee County, to those in our most densely populated cities, are provided with identical educational learning opportunities of the highest caliber,” McCrory stated in a news release. “At a time when so many students across the globe are connected to the Internet on a daily basis, and when educators see greater use of online materials as an immediate benefit to individual learners, wireless access has become as vital to classrooms as blackboards, textbooks and pencils once were.”

In March, the Sampson County Schools Board of Education pre-approved spending for the work, after a presentation from Dr. Wesley Johnson, director of digital literacy and accountability. The money will later be reimbursed by the FCC and the state’s Race to the Top, a grant from the U.S. Department of Education designed to encourage innovation. The total cost is more than $800,000 and Johnson said the district will not have to pay anything.

“We’re excited,” Johnson said. “We’re glad that the FCC and the State of North Carolina is working together to increase broadband access to our student. We’re looking forward to being able to provide Wi-Fi in their hands to increase learning and to improve the overall education they’re receiving in Sampson County.”

During the presentation, the listed schools who needed wireless access the most included Hargrove Elementary, Hobbton Middle School, Hobbton High School, Lakewood High School, Midway Elementary School, Midway High School, Union Middle School, Union Intermediate School and Union High School. The nine schools were selected by the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University, an organization working with the Department of Public Instruction to move forward with providing every student with the best access to the Internet. Technically, it’s also known as an “1:1 Environment.”

Johnson said the district has been moving forward on the project and began receiving materials such as additional wiring, servers and Access Points, which will provide more coverage for students in classrooms and larger spaces such as cafeterias. State official made a request for the project to be completed by mid-August, but Johnson believes it may take districts across North Carolina longer since there’s less than 10 vendors to work with.

“It’s a big project and a big undertaking,” Johnson said.

Currently, all of the schools in the district have access to Wi-Fi, but there’s some schools in need of additional coverage. After the completion, Johnson indicated that 30 computers can be operated through the system.

“At the end of this process, we’ll still have a few schools that are in need of some additional coverage,” Johnson said.

For any of the schools that are not getting redone, Johnson is hoping to move some Access Points around to provide better coverage.

Johnson mentioned how the project is a continuing goal of the governor to improve wireless infrastructure. The project started in 2014, when McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, State Superintendent June Atkinson, and state Chief Information Officer Chris Estes met with the FCC to encourage the use if federal funding for Wi-Fi in North Carolina. Forest stated the announcement came after countless hours of work to make North Carolina the foremost leader in digital education.

“I believe we will be the first state in the nation to have every single classroom connected to high-speed wireless and to have one-to-one devices in the hands of our students,” Forest said. “When we combine this with effective training, appropriate content and strong leadership, we will be one step closer to bridging the education opportunity divide that plagues many of our communities across the state.”

According to officials from McCrory’s office, North Carolina is a leader in extending broadband access to public schools. Every K-12 school in North Carolina is served by high-speed broadband, but only 44 percent have Wi-Fi in the classroom. With support from the FCC, the percentage is expected to decrease.

“This announcement is great news for North Carolina’s public school students,” said Superintendent Atkinson. “Through the work of many people, North Carolina students will have greater access to the Internet and to the digital learning resources they need for more personalized learning and for success.”

Estes said classroom Wi-Fi is an essential element in building the state’s digital infrastructure.

“This effort is crucial in developing the science, technology, engineering and math skills that students will need to succeed in the workforce,” Estes said.