Students and teachers in DeKalb County, Ala., are a long stride closer to the cutting edge of technology thanks to a $2.5 million internet upgrade officials hope to complete by the end of the year.
The best first step for DeKalb County was the addition of 72,000 linear feet of fiber that connects every classroom to top-notch internet access, Superintendent Jason Barnett said. Other upgrades include wireless capabilities and new hardware to take advantage of the increased speed and access.
"We put together a package that will touch every school in our district," Barnett said. "It allows our teachers to provide better lessons and get immediate feedback on lessons."
Federal E-Rate funds made up about $1.5 million of the funds for the upgrade balanced with other federal and local funding, he said. The E-Rate program was originally authorized in 1997 by Congress to enhance access to telecommunications and now is aimed more at internet access for schools and libraries, according to information about its history on Alabama's E-Rate website.
The upgrade supports careers students pursue after school because "it allows [students and teachers] to go from consuming information to producing information," Barnett said.
The "network upgrade should be completed by the first of the year. We've completed over half of our campuses now," Barnett said.
Officials also have set a goal of reaching a one-to-one device ratio for all students and teachers, he said.
The rural 14-school system sprawls across the 784-square-mile county and serves about 9,000 students, according to system officials. Geraldine School in the southern end of the county is a pre-K through 12th-grade school that had lagged in the past on technology.
Geraldine principal Steven Street said the upgrades in place at the school took it from having the worst network in the district to having the speediest.
"It's working extremely well; no glitches or anything," Street said.
"With a lot of our state testing program going online, we felt more comfortable," he said. Last year, officials had to limit the number of people using the network during testing because of its limitations.
Students have grown up connected and most teachers "are pretty much savvy about the technology" so the transition wasn't traumatic, Street said. Instead, it's a relief, he said.
"We're really excited," he said. "We're fortunate to be the first school."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.