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This week CCSESA puts the spotlight on Kings County Office of Education and their extensive efforts to bring high-speed internet to all students in their rural community.
Technology is revolutionizing teaching and learning, but nationwide, 5 million households with school-age children are not equipped with high-speed internet service at home, according to the Pew Research Center.
 
The problem is even more acute in rural communities, where it is not cost effective for major carriers to build out the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet access.
Jerry Waymire, Assistant Superintendent, Information Technology, for Kings County Office of Education (KCOE) said the county office was determined to bridge the digital divide for their students. The solution: Have KCOE build its own network.
 
Kings County is mostly farmland, located in Southern San Joaquin Valley. In the county’s more rural towns, broadband internet access is very limited.
 
In 2009/10, KCOE built its own 3G WiMax network leveraging available E-rate funding. Corcoran Unified School District students were given ‘Mifi’ devices, also known as routers. Students also received iPads to take home with them, allowing them access to high-speed internet for anytime/anywhere learning opportunities.
 
When the 1:1 Program launched in Corcoran in 2010, the district administered surveys regarding internet access at parent and student training sessions. Waymire said those surveys showed that an astounding 97 percent of households had no regular access to the internet.
 
When E-rate funding for this purpose was eliminated, Waymire said the district felt the program, called KingsNet, was so beneficial they agreed to pay out of pocket to keep the program running.
In 2012, KCOE began expanding to additional communities, eventually including Kettleman City, Avenal, Lemoore, Hanford and Armona. Waymire said that by early 2017 all of the populated communities will be part of KingsNet.
 
School districts in Kings County also provide students with either Chromebooks or iPads, usually beginning in the fourth grade.
 
Two years ago, KingsNet upgraded to 4G LTE service. 4G is the fourth and latest generation technology for data access over cellular networks. LTE, which stands for “Long Term Evolution,” is the fastest and most consistent variety of 4G.
 
KingsNet has built eight transmission towers in Kings County, with seven more under construction.
Waymire said they were able to expand KingsNet in a cost-effective way by leveraging their EBS (Educational Broadband Service).
 
“The reason we can do this is years ago the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) gave schools a frequency, the EBS. Every county office of education was able to apply for free and we did.”
 
Waymire said KCOE held on to its frequencies rather than leasing them out to commercial providers, such as Sprint.
 
School districts pay KCOE $10 a month for each 4G LTE device, but Waymire said as the program expands the cost per unit will decrease. KingsNet currently provides approximately 3,500 devices to students, distributed through schools and/or districts.

Results of the internet service have been overwhelmingly positive. Waymire said they have seen improved student academic performance, increased student participation, fewer disciplinary issues, improved parent/student collaboration, and greater overall benefits to their communities.
 
For example, the Corcoran Unified School District has seen a 10 percent decrease in course failure rates since KingsNet launched, and a 30 percent increase in the number of students on the middle school honor roll. The number of students passing core courses has doubled, and the number of students ready for four-year college and/or career has increased by 33 percent.
 
In Avenal, the percentage of students in grades 5 through 8 at or above grade level has increased in both reading and math.
The threat of losing their devices due to disciplinary infractions has resulted in improvements in student behavior, including a 60 percent decrease in suspensions in Corcoran.
 
Parent use of the district app in Corcoran has doubled, and use of other communication systems, such as the parent portal, has increased by 33 percent. Waymire said parents are now able to follow up on missing assignments and communicate with teachers.
 
Student communication with teachers has grown so much that teachers have told students they will stop answering emails at 9 p.m. each night, Waymire said.
“They had one student who never completed his homework and was failing several classes,” Waymire said. “We found out he was just getting stuck. Once he could communicate with his teachers about homework and get his questions answered, he was able to work through it and succeed.”
 
In addition to enhancing communication with teachers, internet access at home allows students to do research using sources beyond their textbooks, collaborate on projects with other students, and engage in project-based learning.
 
Waymire said KingsNet allows parents to share their children’s passwords and access the internet on their own devices. “The Corcoran Superintendent informed us this access has helped the entire community, because parents can do things like apply for jobs online.”
 
Not surprisingly, parents said their kids were using the internet late into the night and it was affecting their sleep. To be responsive to the needs of the parents and districts they serve, Waymire said the system is shut down every night from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
 
KingsNet is filtered, so it is compliant with CIPA (the Children’s Internet Protection Act). The breakage and failure rate for devices have been very low, Waymire said.
 
“Our broadband project has been exciting to watch grow and develop,” said Kings County Superintendent of Schools Tim Bowers.  “What started out as a pilot with one district has led to our being able to blanket the county with LTE broadband service. The service will allow our districts to bridge the curriculum gap from classroom to home.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:


• Resources to help school administrators implement technology in their schools are available on the TICAL website.
 
• CEPTA, a nonprofit that promotes integration of technology in schools, offers edtech news updates on its website.
 
Computer Using Educators (CUE) is a membership organization that develops leadership, advocacy and professional development for technology in education.






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