Maine School District Provides Wi-Fi to Students’ Homes

Ensuring reliable Internet is available to the district's roughly 6,400 students is the latest step in the district's 1:1 technology initiative.

by Jennifer Johnson, Pioneer Press Newspapers / November 3, 2015 0

(TNS) — Students without regular, reliable access to the Internet at home can now get online with Wi-Fi hotspots provided by Maine Township High School District 207.

All three high schools currently have hotspots available for short-term check-out, but beginning in January, the devices will be provided to an estimated 200 and 250 students who, through school surveys, have indicated they do not have access to the Internet in their homes, according to Henry Thiele, the school's assistant superintendent of technology and learning.

At $100 per device, the district is looking to pay for the hotspots through community donations in the form of sponsorships. Donors can choose to be recognized for their contribution on the district's website, www.maine207.org, the district said.

Donations of $100 will be used to sponsor four years of Internet access per student, according to the district.

Ensuring reliable Internet is available to the roughly 6,400 students in District 207 is the latest step in the district's "1-to-1 technology initiative," said District 207 spokesman David Beery. Beginning in the fall of 2013, students began buying Chromebook computers from the district for both classroom instruction and homework assignments. This is the first school year that all four high school grade levels are using Chromebooks, the district said.

"This is a way to close the loop so all of our students enjoy the same access away from campus and at home when they are doing school work on their Chromebooks," Beery said.

Though the hotspots come with a cost, the data used will not, according to district officials. Through a federal program called ConnectED, District 207 was the recipient of a grant from Sprint in which the wireless company is providing 3 GB of filtered data per month per device free of charge, the district said. This free data will be offered for four years for a total of 350 devices, Beery said.

When the four years is up, "we will keep an eye on changing trends with Wi-Fi and develop a [new] plan as that time gets closer," Beery added.

Those who receive a hotspot to use for the entire school year will be selected based on need, he said.

A screen on the hotspots will help students track their available data, Thiele said. Because there is a monthly data limit, using the hotspot to stream movies, television shows or music is discouraged.

"If a student decided to stream Netflix or Amazon Prime nonstop, they would go through their data," Thiele said.

Once the data limit is reached, devices will reportedly still work, though at a slower pace.

"Once they hit 3 GB, it throttles the data speed. So they would drop from a 4 GB speed down to dial-up speeds," Thiele said. "They could still get online and open a Google doc and do a Google search, but streaming would be difficult."

The Internet will be filtered by Sprint in the same way it's filtered when students go online at school, Beery said.

There are currently 30 hotspot devices available for overnight check-out at the Chrome Depot inside each of District 207's three schools, Beery said. Thiele suggested that these devices will be useful for students who may be unable to get online if they are at an off-campus, school-related event or riding a bus to the destination.

Township High School District 214, which serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, and Wheeling, is also providing students with Internet access through the ConnectED grant program, Thiele said.

©2015 Pioneer Press Newspapers (Suburban Chicago, Ill.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.