School sending Internet home with the students

BLOOMINGTON, Ill — Paper, pencils and textbooks won’t cut it anymore.

Thirty eight families are going online with the help of a pilot program here, and another 600 will likely be added next year when the district offers Internet to all low-income families with students in junior high.

The lesson plan for seventh-graders involves as much work online as it does work in the classroom, and that’s the reality. But who will pay for it?

An Internet-access plan from Bloomington’s District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly will cost $27,000 next year, and it could cost as much as $100,000 — once all needy students in grades three through 12 are connected. Yet the district’s budget for next year is expected to be $2.3 million less than next year.

Reilly said the $100,000 Internet price tag would be equal to about two teachers’ salaries, but he is not cutting teaching positions to pay for the Internet hookups.
“I understand people out there not wanting us to use tax dollars for (internet connections at home), and I don’t, either.” Reilly said he is looking for sponsors to pick up the cost, but he’s not waiting.

Reilly is paying for the first two years of Internet service with available cash. As the district spends less on text books, the school will have more to spend on online tools, he says.

“This is the wave now, I wouldn’t even say this is the wave of the future. This is how things are happening now.

“I see this as a social justice issue,” Reilly said. “We want to make sure that, when kids go home, there’s a level playing field, meaning that everyone has access to the resources.”

Reilly said students are expected to go online for research, to access assignments and to work on group projects. He’s said Internet access via smartphones isn’t enough.

“The education is really the important part,” Lan Neugent, interim executive director of the nonprofit education technology group The State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Neugent said parents would not stand for low-income students having different text books, and they shouldn’t stand for them having different Internet options.

“It’s equal access,” Neugent said. “If kids go to school and they can just use technology in school, and then they come home and don’t have access … We wouldn’t stand for that.”

Neugnet said across the country more and more schools have shifting more and more course work online.

The new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or the PARCC Test — part of the Common Core curriculum — is supposed to be entirely online, for instance.

But the testing is at school, and these Internet connections are at home.

“We’re talking about kids. Of course they are going to use that Internet access for more than just doing their homework,” Reilly said. “Whether they do two hours of homework (or) play a game on there for an hour, it doesn’t cost anything more.”

The Internet connections are filtered through the school’s servers before connecting to the homes.

“(It’s a) good investment, not an expense,” Neugent said. “It’s an investment to make sure that children from a non-privileged class have an equal opportunity to they can advance.”

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Partnership for a Connected Illinois 1337 Wabash Ave. Springfield, IL 62704 Phone: (217) 886-4228 Fax: (217) 718-4546