Yavapai Elementary School students have access to technology during the school day. But after the final bell rings, an estimated 92 percent of students can’t log on to the Internet at home.
To fix that, the Scottsdale Unified School District wants to offer free wireless Internet access to every district family in the Yavapai enrollment area. Yavapai has the highest percentage of low-income students of any school in the district — 75 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch programs.
And even higher numbers don’t have Internet access at home. A survey the school did a few years ago estimated that 30 percent of Yavapai families have computers and only 8 percent have Internet access, said Dave DeBarr, district director of instructional technology.
Looking at those numbers made the district wonder how students in the area would be able to compete with their peers later on without access to all the information on the Internet, said Ernie Nicely, executive director of technology.
“(Some families) have the computer. And that does help, but they need access to the outside world … to pull in that information,” Nicely said.
The project would cost up to $500,000 and be funded entirely by grants, Nicely said, although there is an estimated $4,900 cost to apply for those funds.
Any family with a child in the school district and living in the Yavapai enrollment area would have access to Internet, Nicely said. That would affect not only the 690 students at Yavapai, but also older students living nearby who attend Supai Middle School and Coronado High School.
The district is also looking at ways to get every family a computer. One promising outlet would give families old computers that are donated to — and refurbished by — Coronado students, DeBarr said.
Each family would be set up on an individual, secure Internet account to ensure only people with children in the district receive access, Nicely said. He described the system as similar to Internet available at Starbucks — customers have to log in with a unique account to access the service. And families taking advantage of the service couldn’t go just anywhere online.
The district would put a filter on the service that would only allow families to access the sites allowed in schools, Nicely said.
“We’re very careful at work. There are firewalls so certain sites can’t be reached,” said principal Wendy Cohen.
Giving students Internet access at home would expand learning potential after school hours, since they could go to approved Web sites instead of just using home computers to play games, she said.
Cohen said many of the schools’ parents don’t have access to things other parents can take advantage of, such as e-mailing a teacher, checking their students’ grades online or checking out news at the school through the Web site. And parents could also brush up on their own education, she said.
“One of the biggest indicators for student success is parent involvement,” Cohen said.
Since the grants haven’t been written yet, the earliest Yavapai families will be online would be this summer, DeBarr said. But district officials are already looking ahead. If this experiment is successful, they’d like to eventually expand to other areas, he said.