This fall, Cypress-Fairbanks (TX) Independent School District is particularly excited about welcoming back 150 of our underserved elementary, middle, and high school students after they’ve enjoyed their first full summer of district-sponsored Wi-Fi. This group of students is the first to benefit from iConnect, a new program that extends our district’s enterprise network infrastructure with safe and secure learning systems into eligible communities.
For our pilot, we delivered remote wireless connectivity and computing devices to families at the Nayeli House Tanner Road Mobile Home Park in our Houston metro district. What’s more, we’ll soon be expanding iConnect to communities served by four more schools within our footprint. Here are the steps we recommend for getting a similar initiative done in your district.
Step 1: Reframe your mission to meet access needs at home
Although we passed a significant technology bond in 2014 that enables providing students with computing devices at school, which included a total overhaul of our network infrastructure, by 2015 we realized a significant percentage of our students had no internet access at home. This meant we were falling short of our district’s mission—to maximize every student’s potential by providing opportunity for all—because so many of our students lacked the connectivity vital for after-hours learning and collaboration. Taking this perspective, we launched a three-year effort to close the opportunity gap by finding a way to bring access to their homes.
Step 2: Do your homework at the outset
Three years ago, we started investigating how other districts were addressing after-hours access, including which technology partners they were using and new or emerging innovations that could enable us to extend access well beyond our campuses. Ultimately, we settled on regional networking services provider Layer 3 Communications, which helped us assemble other key partners such as Aruba for Wi-Fi.
Step 3: Be creative in finding funds; begin by analyzing free/reduced data
To fund our iConnect program, we sought internal resources from our Title IV budget and were allocated funding to cover a single high-density population. We then analyzed aggregate data from our free and reduced lunch program to determine the community with the highest level of need. While it was a mobile home park in our case, it could also be an apartment building, a mixed-income housing project, or any type of high-density neighborhood demonstrating need.
Step 4: Start working with leaders in your target community early-on
It’s imperative to bring local community leaders onboard early. For example, we needed approvals to erect an appropriate utility pole at the mobile home park to house our on-site equipment. Beyond approvals, local community leaders became champions for iConnect, building critical enthusiasm on the ground.