Grant to expand Internet access in schools
High-speed Internet access grant to launch digital learning transformation
Posted on 03/06/2014
Student with ipad

Digital learning is opening a new world of opportunities and resources for children in the classroom and a grant just received by Floyd County Schools will expand teacher and student access to these learning tools.  The grant will enhance the Internet experience for students to such a level that it will be like moving from peering through a pin hole to gazing out of an immense picture window.   The grant awarded to the school system is called the 2014 Technology Grant to Adopt Digital Learning Using High-Speed Internet Connections and will provide $82,000 for the school system to expand Internet broadband access.   The new faster connection will increase up to six times the amount of data that will be able to travel into our schools to provide learning resources for children and teachers. “This will be like moving from a coffee straw to provide the flow of data into our schools to a fire hose,” stated Craig Ellison, director of technology for Floyd County Schools. “This is the first step in impacting digital learning to a whole new and exciting level in Floyd County classrooms.”

The grant, also known as the 7MM grant, is a four-tier grant process with this initial award being the first tier.  The funds from tier-one will allow the system to upgrade equipment to provide 2.1 gigabits per second of Internet bandwidth for the system and 100 megabits per school.  That is an increase from 363 megabits currently for the system and only 17 megabits per school.  “The new expanded access will greatly enhance the ability for our schools, teachers, and students to access learning tools over the Internet using computers and personal learning devices,” commented Tony Bethune, chief of academics for Floyd County Schools. “This is just the first step in an effort to even better utilize the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative in our schools to provide access to learning resources.”   The use of video technology will be greatly expanded with the new access capability.  “One issue that is currently impacting our system is our teachers connecting to the cameras monitoring the nesting eagles at Berry College,” stated Ellison. Video uses a large amount of bandwidth, and with the number of teachers connecting to the eagle cam for instruction, the system is spiking at 290 megabits per second and slowing down all use of Internet resources.  “290 megabits are huge for us right now but it would be hardly noticeable on a system with 2.1 gigs,” added Ellison.     

Floyd County Schools was poised to take advantage of this grant as a result of infrastructure decisions made over the last six years.  The system used funds from the current SPLOST expiring this month to replace standard copper wire connections to schools with fiber- optic connections.  The fiber-optics will handle the new high-speed Internet bandwidth possible with the funds from the grant.  “Those decisions have put us in a position to take full advantage of the resources now available to the school system,” added Ellison. “Having this bandwidth will make our school system a strong contender for the other three tiers in the grant process.”  The system plans to enhance wireless access to the expanded Internet connection by installing wireless access points in each classroom, if tiers-two and three are granted to the system.  Tier-four plans would provide personal learning devices for each child in the system.

“This is not just about technology and providing the latest gadget, but rather, it is expanding learning opportunities to clear the path to graduation for more of our community’s children,” said Dr. Jeff McDaniel, superintendent of Floyd County Schools.  “This is a learning tool that will better equip students to reach the goal of graduation, and in addition, have the knowledge and learning skills to be successful in the technological world of the future.”  The system will purchase the equipment to increase the bandwidth this summer and the new access will be available to schools when school begins in August.  The system will apply for tier-two this summer with anticipation of tiers-three and four to come in 2015 and 2016.

The Technology Grant to Adopt Digital Learning Using High-Speed Internet Connections is a federal grant program addressing the nation-wide objective to provide access to 99 percent of American students to ultra-fast broadband within the next five years.  The ConnectEd initiative would bring Internet speeds of at least 100 megabits per second to schools across the country.        

Photo: Copeland Ayers, Pre-K student at Alto Park Elementary, uses a Vinci Android Tablet to work on the day's assignment.