Schools and homes in Hyattsville, Md., are among the first in the nation to get fully wireless access to voice, data, and video capabilities.

Thanks to Maryland’s “Connected for Learning” initiative and the generosity of corporate sponsors, the project, called “Hyattsville Wireless Community,” debuted during Maryland’s Net Weekend ’98 on Sept. 25. It’s one of the first campuswide wireless networks in the nation, state officials said.

“The Hyattsville Wireless Community represents the way education and technology should be — totally integrated and dedicated to enhancing the educational experience our teachers provide to the children of the state of Maryland,” said Gov. Parris Glendening. “This national model also brings parents into the classroom with a 24-hour communications link.”

Connected for Learning

The entire communications infrastructure at Hyattsville Elementary School is now wireless. The elementary school is networked to Hyattsville Middle School, 1 mile away, via wireless communications.

Both schools have access to voice mailboxes 24 hours a day. Parents of elementary students can receive messages via voice mail and leave messages for teachers and other staff members. Each elementary teacher has a wireless phone for making and receiving calls on campus.

Teachers received multimedia notebook computers for use at school or home. The computers connect to the school’s local area network (LAN) via wireless infrared technology. Students have access to wireless notebook computers via mobile computer labs that are shared among classrooms.

The wireless network includes a school-based electronic fax service to send and receive faxes from parents, students, and administrators; a distance learning room that links elementary students with teachers at the middle school for accelerated instruction; and a videoconferencing room for video training, conferences, and meetings.

‘Tremendous flexibility’

The wireless community project stems from Maryland’s Connected for Learning initiative, which is investing $53 million during the next five years to bring internet access into the state’s classrooms.

Major Riddick, the governor’s chief of staff, spearheaded the Hyattsville project two years ago by challenging GTE Communications Corp. to build a wireless infrastructure that could serve as a model for other school systems.

GTE responded by recruiting other corporate sponsors and providing the management and labor for the project. Hyattsville was selected as the demonstration site.

Roger White, principal of Hyattsville Elementary School, said the entire school community is excited to be a part of the project.

“Having a completely wireless network offers us a tremendous amount of flexibility,” White said. “Since our internet connections aren’t centralized around a phone hook-up, students can connect from anywhere in the building with the laptops.”

“This will really expand the learning opportunities for our students,” he continued. “I know many of the teachers here have been looking forward to moving beyond just textbook instruction.”

Teachers have been using the cell phones and fax machines since school began this year, White said, and the devices have improved communication with parents. Parents have been able to fax permission slips and receive homework assignments and other classroom information.

In addition to GTE, other sponsors of the project include Centigram Communications Corp., which supplied the schools’ voice mail systems; Cisco Systems Inc., which donated the routers for internet connectivity; and NEC Corp., which donated the wireless phones and videoconferencing equipment.

The unveiling of the Hyattsville Wireless Community project kicked off Maryland’s third annual Net Weekend, which helped wire classrooms in 400 schools across the state. By the end of that weekend, Glendening said, every school in the state would have internet access in at least one instructional area.

Links:

GTE Communications Corp.
http://www.gte.com

Centigram Communications Corp.
http://www.centigram.com

Cisco Systems Inc.
http://www.cisco.com

NEC Corp.
http://www.nec.com