This year, a suburban Texas school district with 13,000 students ensured that every child left for the first day of school not just with a backpack full of crisp notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils — but also with his or her own laptop or tablet.
The five-campus school district had finally achieved its mission to provide more enriching and collaborative learning experiences for all its students through a bring your own device (BYOD) program. The norm for most public schools is to implement BYOD only for higher grades, but this district had something else in mind. “Our mission is to serve all students,” says the district’s CIO. “All means all. So, we wanted to roll out the program for K-12.”
Getting to this point was a major accomplishment for the district because the program came close to being shelved due to financial constraints: The technology required for a successful rollout required funds that exceeded its limited budget. The district was able to overcome this obstacle, however, with the help of an experienced technology partner.
When the idea for the BYOD program was first conceived, the district CIO recognized that getting it off the ground would mean upgrading the district’s 50 Mbps fiber Internet circuit to support Internet traffic from thousands of devices. To ensure an inclusive experience for all, it would also mean purchasing laptops and tablets for students who couldn’t afford their own.
These things required funds the district did not have. However, the CIO discovered help was available for the upgrade via the E-rate program, which provides funding that helps eligible schools obtain affordable telecommunications services and Internet access. He chose to switch from the existing IT vendor to Spectrum Enterprise largely because the company is one of the nation’s largest E-rate eligible Telecommunications Providers (ETPs).
By partnering with Spectrum Enterprise, the school district was able to navigate the lengthy and complex E-rate application process and secure funding for Spectrum Enterprise Fiber Internet Access (FIA) service. FIA provides the reliable and scalable high-performance connectivity required to support programs like BYOD with large numbers of connected devices.
The E-rate funding also enabled the district to solve the issue of how to afford devices for students in need. Because the FIA network costs were offset by the E-rate funds, the district was able to use its limited budget to ensure every single student had a laptop or tablet.
Now, students use their devices to connect to cloud-based tools like G Suite for Education, which enhances collaboration and provides a more enriching student experience. “A lot of teachers will create assignments in G Suite,” says the CIO. “The students then create a document and share it with the teacher, who can easily comment on it right in the tool.”
The district initially chose to install a 100 Mbps FIA circuit to support these tools as well as all 13,000 student devices. However, it subsequently decided to upgrade to a 1 Gbps circuit to support growing bandwidth needs driven by the desire to expand the suite of cloud-based educational programs, and growth of the student population. “Both the installation and the upgrade with Spectrum Enterprise were very seamless,” says the CIO. “In the world of technology, it was about as turnkey as you can get.”
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The BYOD program and new network has been a win-win for students and teachers. “With the FIA service,” says the CIO, “we’re moving forward faster than ever to pioneer rich classroom engagement and teacher-student collaboration.”
As you prepare for the 2020 E-rate cycle, consult these planning tools or check out this e-book to learn how you can obtain and use E-rate funding to create more enriching learning opportunities for your students.
Cliff brings 25 years of increasingly impactful technology leadership experience to his role as Sr. Director, Vertical Programs, at Spectrum Enterprise. He is responsible for strategic program management supporting Federal, State & Local Government, K-12 & Higher Education, Healthcare, and Hospitality verticals.