Maybe the odds were in the tiny state’s favor, but Delaware is claiming to be the first in the nation to connect all of its public schools and classrooms to the internet. Its classroom wiring project, completed last fall within budget and in less than the three years originally projected, was funded entirely by the state.

Launched in Feb. 1996 by the Delaware Center for Educational Technology (DCET), the project wired more than 6,400 classrooms in 181 buildings with voice, video, data, and fiber optic lines. The project gives each classroom at least one data port connected to the internet through the Delaware Education Network, a statewide intranet owned and operated by the state’s Office of Information Systems.

According to Wayne Hartschuh, executive director of DCET, the project was completed in three phases at a total cost of $23 million. Walsh-Lowe Engineering and Bell Atlantic Network Integration were the contractors.

The first phase wired the state’s district offices, high schools, and smaller elementary schools with the most immediate needs. Phase two wired the state’s middle schools and more elementary schools. The final phase completed the wiring of elementary schools.

Most of the work on each phase was done in successive summers, Hartschuh said, though work on some of the smaller elementary schools continued in the afternoons and evenings during the school year.

Each building is connected to the Bell Atlantic backbone through a T1 line. Internet requests travel over the backbone and are routed through a central state office. The data lines and routers are all paid for and maintained by the state.

Every classroom has a multimedia box connected to the building’s server. The box is the terminus for a telephone line, a coaxial cable for video distribution, and two fiber optic lines for future growth, Hartschuh said.

Funding for the project came from Delaware’s 21st Century Fund, which was created when Delaware won a huge settlement from New York state over securities payments. DCET received $30 million for the school wiring project, and the rest paid for other capital investment projects like improving the state’s roads and bridges, Hartschuh said.

Delaware Governor Thomas R. Carper and Education Secretary Iris T. Metts joined business leaders and educators at Lulu Ross Elementary School in December to celebrate completion of the wiring project.

“It is imperative that we give our students every opportunity to be successful when their academic careers have ended and their employment careers begin,” Metts said. “Making internet and multimedia technology available in every public school classroom will help us ensure that every teacher and every student has access to these exciting and important learning tools.”

Lulu Ross Elementary, with 580 students in grades 1-4, was chosen as the site for the celebration because of its innovative approaches to using technology, Gov. Carper said.

The school uses an instructional management system for all second-graders; compiles attendance online every day; hosts a Family Technology Night each Wednesday so parents can see how technology is being used in the classroom; and provides a multimedia library for students and staff.

DCET will now focus its efforts on purchasing and supporting hardware and software for the classrooms, as well as staff professional development to make the most of its investment, Hartschuh said.

Delaware Education Network