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Schools Hooked Up with Wireless Internet after Long Wait [The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho :: ]
[April 28, 2014]

Schools Hooked Up with Wireless Internet after Long Wait [The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho :: ]

(Times-News (Twin Falls, ID) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 28--TWIN FALLS -- Richfield students and teachers finally have wireless Internet access, but there isn't enough bandwidth to support it.

Superintendent Mike Smith used an agriculture analogy to describe Richfield High School's situation.

"We have the pivot, but just don't have the water here yet," he said.

Officials in Richfield -- which has more than 200 students -- plan to address the problem in May once computer-based standardized testing ends.

After waiting for months, Richfield is among more than a dozen Magic Valley school districts that finally have wireless Internet access paid for by the state.

Twin Falls high schools were supposed to have equipment installed in December, but due to state delays, that didn't happen until February.

"It has been a welcomed addition to our schools," Twin Falls district Director of Operations Brady Dickinson said.

In past years, some high school teachers created their own wireless hot spots in classrooms. Elementary and middle schools already have building-wide access.

Now that high schools are on board, Twin Falls district officials can move forward with a five-year technology plan.

"Our goal now is to put more devices into the classrooms," Dickinson said, such as Chromebooks.

The goal is one mobile device for every two students. That would be balanced out with a "bring your own device" policy.

Statewide, schools that opted in last year to receive wireless Internet should have equipment up and running, said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education. More than 80 percent of Idaho's public high schools are participating. Under the state's contract with Education Networks of America, the deadline to install equipment was March 15. In February, nearly half of the schools were still waiting.

The state is paying $2.25 million per year to provide wireless Internet under a contract with the firm.

A handful Magic Valley districts -- including Blaine County, Dietrich, Hansen, Kimberly, Shoshone, Valley and Xavier Charter School -- decided to pass on receiving wireless through the state program.

Some, such as Xavier and Kimberly, already have their own systems.

If schools want to pursue their own wireless networks, that's an option. If their network meets specifications, they can possibly receive state funding for it, McGrath said.

At Jerome High School, wireless equipment was installed in March. But district Superintendent Dale Layne said they're considering putting in their own system. It would work better because the high school would be on the same system as Jerome's other schools, he said, which already have wireless Internet.

In Richfield, equipment was installed at least a month ago. The wireless is useable, but "the bandwidth is very minimal," Smith said.

McGrath said it's not uncommon for districts to need more bandwidth than expected. The state will work with vendors to address those needs, she said.

Smith said he's hoping wireless will be fully functional by mid-May. The kindergarten through eighth-grade building already has wireless, which the school funds.

School officials plan to use grant money to buy mobile devices for classrooms.

"We are trying to get devices into our teachers' hands to improve our instruction," Smith said.

___ (c)2014 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) Visit The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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