Up to 50,000 schools could receive free educational television programming from DirecTV Inc. as part of the “DirecTV Goes to School” program, a public service initiative from one of the nation’s leading digital television providers.

The initiative is DirecTV’s answer to Cable in the Classroom, a public service effort by the cable television industry to provide a free cable connection and commercial-free educational programming to schools across the country. DirecTV Goes to School, which is a satellite-based program, may be useful for schools in areas without access to cable TV.

DirecTV, which has more than 10 million customers, launched its school program last fall. “It’s a way to give back to the communities that we serve,” said Bob Marsocci, the company’s director of communications. Currently 2,300 schools subscribe to the program.

Participating schools receive free access to 66 educational channels from television networks such as C-SPAN, CNN, Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and the Learning Channel.

“Our programmers–like CNN, the Weather Channel, and Discovery–agreed to allow us to provide this programming to schools for free, so we created a package called the School Choice Package,” Marsocci said. The package offers an array of news, educational, and informational programming.

Popular programs include “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” the Weather Channel’s earth science series “The Weather Classroom,” and A&E’s eight-part series on the history of the solar system, “The Planets.”

“We just deliver what we get from the networks, so there is advertising. We don’t edit the content,” Marsocci said.

In addition, participating schools receive a free 350-page guide–complete with articles on the programming–with a cover designed especially for DirecTV Goes to School subscribers.

“We have a monthly guide that we send to all our customers. We have taken this guide and modified it slightly so teachers can use it,” Marsocci said. “It highlights programming that might be useful to teachers.”

For its home consumers, DirecTV charges $21.95 per month for access to 50 channels, so comparatively, the DirecTV Goes to School program saves schools almost $300 a year, Marsocci said.

Schools do have to purchase the DirecTV system and pay to have it installed. The system consists of an 18-inch satellite dish mounted outside, a receiver for the TV, and a remote control.

“For schools in select underprivileged areas, we are providing systems and installation for free,” Marsocci said.

Because the satellite signal can be received by only one television, the DirecTV service is limited to only one television set. “What we’re suggesting is that it be installed in a library, because it can’t be moved around,” Marsocci said.

That’s exactly what Dale Buboltz, librarian at James A. Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles, did. With DirecTV set up in the school’s library, Buboltz said he airs coverage about important news and events, like the election coverage or the launch of a NASA space shuttle while students work in the library.

“At least for a few minutes people could catch it,” Buboltz said. “Certainly if there is an emergency we can have that coverage and know what’s going on.” Occasionally an item on TV will captivate the attention of all the students in the library and they will sit down and watch it together, he said.

Even though a lot of the content is repeated several times throughout the day, Buboltz said, “it works perfectly for me because my audience changes.” The Foshay Learning Center is a K-12 public school serving 3, 400 students in a year-round schooling environment.

“DirecTV was brought in to us because we were having such a hard time with the cable service,” Buboltz said. Cable in the Classroom was installed in the school’s Product Development Center, a high-tech computer lab, instead of the school’s library, where it would be more useful.

“Even if we paid for it, we couldn’t get them to put a drop in the library,” Buboltz said. “They weren’t geared up to make an exception for us. It was difficult to use the [cable] service.”

Under the terms of the DirecTV agreement, teachers can record programming, edit the content, and replay it later to fit their curriculum.

Buboltz said he records various programs from DirecTV for teachers to use in their classrooms so the teachers don’t have to do it themselves.

To make it easier on teachers, Buboltz looks for shows listed in the DirecTV guide that would be timely and interesting, then writes about them in a monthly newsletter he distributes to the 180 teachers in his school.

“I don’t approve of just having the TV on to entertain kids,” Buboltz said. “It had to be meaningful and planned into the curriculum. As a librarian, I’m connecting teachers with these resources.”

Because so many students have grown up in a TV culture, teachers like to use DirecTV to supplement and enhance their curriculum with educational programming, Buboltz said.

“Everything has a place in the classroom if it is contributing to the bottom line of educating those students,” Buboltz said. “For some kids, that’s their modality of learning.

“So far, the high school folks are most interested. For the middle school folks, there isn’t quite enough material,” Buboltz said. “It goes over their heads a little bit.”

For more information regarding the DirecTV Goes to School program, call (888) 330-7827.

Links:

Directv Goes To School
http://www.directv.com/school

James A. Foshay Learning Center
http://www.foshay.k12.ca.us

Cable in the Classroom
http://www.ciconline.com