With 95 percent of schools and 63 percent of classrooms now connected to the internet, it would appear the national NetDay movement, known for its one-day school wiring projects, has just about run its course.

Not so fast. The nonprofit organization behind the volunteer NetDay events has announced an expansion of its mission. The group now aims to go beyond merely wiring classrooms, by creating 90 cutting-edge model schools in some of the poorest districts in the country through a new Digital Divide initiative.

“We like to think we are maturing our focus. NetDay started out trying to increase awareness and bring the internet into schools. Now that we have made progress in connectivity, we are updating our challenges to ensure that we are still relevant,” said NetDay’s newly appointed chief executive officer, Julie Evans.

Through partnerships with Tech Corps, the National Education Association, Communities in Schools, the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, and the U.S. Department of Education, NetDay has begun work on model schools in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Washington, D.C., the Rio Grande Valley, and the Mississippi River Delta.

Once a school is chosen to become a model, NetDay volunteers assess its current technology infrastructure and teacher staff development needs. Ongoing work in all seven locations is underway to set up advisory boards for the model schools, establish community partnerships, secure resources, and install the necessary technology.

One part of the intent of the NetDay Digital Divide initiative is to reestablish schools as community assets by providing even the poorest schools with the technology resources needed to link parents and educators, organizers said. Another part is to develop information to share with other educators interested in making the most of educational technology.

Strategies include:

• Identifying schools within federally recognized Empowerment Zones, where school officials are enthusiastic about implementing new technology;

• Recruiting a project director with strong community ties for each location;

• Building a coalition of education, community, government, business, labor, and service organizations that will provide support and resources;

• Teaming with a local university to train teachers and to monitor and assess progress; and

• Developing ways to spread information and allow other educators to benefit from the experience.

Evans identified four phases in NetDay’s new focus. The first phase involves working with 37 schools within the seven previously chosen Empowerment Zones to increase connectivity and bolster infrastructure, in partnership with 3M and Cisco Systems.

The second phase of the initiative involves increasing the amount of hardware in the selected schools. “Ideally, we want to bring the student-to-computer ratio [down] to 5 to 1. In the first week of April, we delivered 480 multimedia computers—iMacs—to the schools,” Evans said.

The third phase of the initiative allows for teacher training on content-integration strategies. “We have to make sure the content being taught using the internet ties in with the school’s overall curriculum goals,” said Evans. “For example, in Los Angeles, we are concentrating on content that helps students reach reading and literacy goals.”

The program’s final phase is to expand service to 90 schools within 16 Empowerment Zones. “We select schools that have a strong desire for technology integration,” said Evans.

Response from the chosen communities has been very positive, according to Evans. “We are trying to reposition schools as community centers. All our programs are customized for community needs,” she said. “For example, in the Rio Grande Valley, where people are so poor they often go without electricity in their homes, there is no way to provide them with home access. But, eventually, all the parents will have eMail addresses through their kids’ schools.”

Rio Grande Valley Project Director Lucila Lagace also expressed her enthusiasm for the project. “We just got our first wave of new hardware, 125 iMacs. Before this, there were no computer labs and maybe one computer per classroom. Now, we can connect with after-school and off-campus community partners,” she said.

NetDay was co-founded in 1995 by John Gage, chief researcher at Sun Microsystems, and Michael Kaufman from KQED. The first wiring event was held on March 9, 1996. Since that time, the organization has helped schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia wire their buildings for internet access.