The Henderson Junior High iChampion roll out changed the District’s learning movement in one of the most profound and important ways: allowing the initiative to extend beyond the school day. While this is a critical goal for our learning experience, it also comes with challenges. Namely, student access to internet service outside of our school walls and protection from information that is not a necessary part of the learning environment. A three-part approach will be needed if we want to leverage the full functionality of our devices.
To address accessibility, one of the District’s immediate goals for the 2017-18 school year is to equip some of our busses with internet. Studies have shown that discipline incidents have been reduced, in some instances, more than 70 percent with the infusion of this technology. For students in grades 7-12, this could mean getting an earlier start on homework assignments, giving students more time with their families and other non-academic activities once they arrive at home. This is not a far-fetched notion and one with immense impact potential. Communities across the nation with high economically-disadvantaged populations such as Stephenville, have realized an even greater benefit from this service.
We have targeted a starting-point of five busses. As one can imagine, outfitting busses with this sort of technology can be pricey. Sponsorship opportunities are available for our community sponsors. Tech ready companies in and around Erath County could sponsor a bus and receive recognition for their efforts on the side of the bus they sponsor. The three longest bus routes will be the first to receive the routers as well as two extra-curricular trip busses.
We recognize that not all our students ride busses. That said, our second goal introduces “iChampion Hotspots,” a community network of local businesses who currently provide free internet to their customers. We place a high value on making every effort to protect our students from inappropriate content on our devices. As such, all SISD devices are filtered from any access point back through to our network. This means that current providers would not have to change how they provide internet access. All that we are ask is that our partners be willing to place a sticker at their entryways denoting this collaboration.
A larger, long-term goal will be expanding the internet availabilities to all of our student’s homes. Registration information will also be linked with bus-mapping software to determine “Wi-Fi” maps of the areas that encompass the SISD boundaries. Solutions to serve these areas are at the heart of our current quest. By resolving these disparities, we will ultimately provide a seamless learning environment that extends beyond the school day or even the school year.
Matt Underwood is the superintendent of the Stephenville Independent School District.