North Thurston schools embrace Wi-Fi

Upgrades bring wireless Internet to district’s 21 schools

lpemberton@theolympian.comMay 27, 2014 

Using WeVideo software, Horizons Elementary School librarian Marc Coyner works with Adair Lewis and his fifth-grade classmates. The installation of 850 wireless access points in the North Thurston School District means school employees like Coyner can further implement technology into their lessons.

STEVE BLOOM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The information superhighway is no longer taking a detour around some classrooms in the North Thurston School District, South Sound’s largest.

Crews recently finished installing 850 wireless access points in the 21-school district, according to Derek Stewart, director of technology.

“Every campus and every district is fully wireless,” he said. “We also increased our bandwidth in the district.”

District officials marked the occasion this month with posts on Twitter that read: “All schools and district buildings now have full WiFi access!” and “Shoutout to technology staff for online testing support!”

In the past, many of the district’s buildings, such as North Thurston High School, had limited Internet access.

“Teachers were really stuck either in the libraries or in certain classrooms,” Stewart said.

The increase in the number of state online tests was the main driver behind the district’s nearly $2 million wireless upgrade, Stewart said.

“We only had three campuses that had full wireless coverage when we started,” Stewart said.

The project is slated to continue throughout the summer, and includes the installation of another 1,100 wireless access points around the district, Stewart said.

“We really made a push to make sure that students have fast and reliable Internet in the district,” he said.

But it’s not just about Internet access. The district’s initiative also increases the number of computers and wireless Internet devices in schools.

Earlier this year, the district deployed 900 laptops on 30 mobile carts for its elementary schools, which tripled the computers in most buildings and expanded the district’s capacity for online Measurements of Student Progress standardized tests, according to Stewart.

In the fall, the district plans to use 1,850 Chromebooks for Smarter Balanced tests in secondary schools, Stewart said.

The laptops and devices aren’t just for tests, though. Teachers are finding many ways to incorporate the new laptops in their classrooms, according to Marc Coyner, a teacher and librarian at Horizons Elementary School.

For example, Horizons students have been able to use more multimedia programs to create mock websites and book trailers, which are video book reviews.

Time is one of the biggest benefits of the laptop carts, Coyner said. Students are not losing five or 10 minutes of instructional time a day traveling from a computer lab to a classroom, which is “a more authentic learning environment,” he said.

“The traditional computer lab can be rather sterile and its scheduling can be very restrictive and even prohibitive for extended (or) split research times,” he said.

The laptops also give students more time to practice their keyboard skills.

“With online writing assessments being implemented, students need to develop these skills,” Coyner said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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