Later this month, Boston will become one of the first large urban school districts in the nation to meet the president’s 1996 challenge to wire every school to the internet by the turn of the century.

On October 25 Boston Net Day will celebrate a major milestone: networking every school, library and community center via a high-speed cable to the internet. It’s the only major city school district that can make that claim, according to Steve Gag, the mayor’s technology advisor and one of the project’s organizers.

More than 111 local and national companies contributed $26 million in funding to bring computer technology to Boston’s 64,000 students and 4,800 teachers. The two-year-old public/private partnership includes a $50 million pledge from the city in capital funds by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, $1 million in contributions from both 3Com and Microsoft Corp., and $3.5 million from Intel. The Calif.-based equipment manufacturer HiQ, with offices in the Boston area, also contributed with steep discounts and extensive technical support, Gag said.

Concerned by the growing disparities in access to new technology between urban and suburban populations, Boston Mayor Menino in 1996 announced his plans to install one computer for every four students and wire all schools, libraries and community centers to the internet by 2001.

That disparity is a problem felt by major school districts all over the nation. According to researchers, 70 percent of America’s families with incomes over $50,000 have computers in the home.

But the gap was particularly startling in Boston–a city where 60 percent of all jobs will require technology skills by the year 2000, according to the mayor’s office. When the project began, 90 percent of students lacked access to computers at home. Now, every student in the district will have a chance to use technology as a learning tool and prepare for productive lives.

The initiative is the work of an ambitious public and private partnership, said the project’s organizers. With the help of corporate donors, the city now has its first free training facility to help teachers incorporate technology into their curriculum. Part of the training will be to help teachers supplement traditional teaching with new interactive learning applications.

The city’s new contract with Cablevision commits the cable company to provide every school and library with free high-speed internet service for the next 10 years.

Boston’s NetDay
http://www.netyearboston.org/