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Wired for the Future

School Power's Robin Rounaghi cheers on third grade teacher Mary Minerman, recipient of an $800 grant to bolster TOW classroom libraries.

School Power’s Robin Rounaghi cheers on third grade teacher Mary Minerman, recipient of an $800 grant to bolster TOW classroom libraries.

With a $150,000 donation to upgrade the wireless system for the Laguna Beach Unified School District, all four schools and 3,000 students are being primed for the day in the near future when school supplies are defined by individual laptops and tablets.

School Power, a volunteer organization that raises funds to augment the district’s budget, presented the check to the district at Tuesday’s board meeting.  The new system, at a total estimated cost of $170,000, will be installed this summer with a five- to seven-year life span, said district technology director Victor Guthrie. The high school is planning on using digital textbooks in the fall.

“Our wireless doesn’t have the capacity to handle all the students having their own laptops,” explained Guthrie on Wednesday.  “Even at our elementary schools, there’s a big demand from the wireless. So we need to be able to provide more data, faster and more secure because of what we see coming, like Bring Your Own Device.”

Bring your own device, which the district has dubbed with the acronym BYOD, is a concept being considered by the district, Guthrie added, but only if the teacher thinks it would benefit instruction and only if the child chooses to use one. “We want to accommodate,” he said. “If every kid wanted to, we would have the capacity.”

By bringing the district to maximum capacity, LBUSD surpasses the capacity of other county districts that are much larger, said Carl Fong, information technology director for the O.C. Dept. of Education.  “They’re up there with districts that are larger in size, like the unified high school districts. Their capacity would be the same or even better than some of the middle-size school districts,” he said. “Laguna Beach is going to be moving pretty quick.”

School Power Endowment representatives Robin Rounaghi and Bill Moore present the school district with a $170,000 check.

School Power Endowment representatives Robin Rounaghi and Bill Moore present the school district with a $170,000 check.

The greatest challenge for school districts in the next five years will be providing enough capacity to match a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio with internet capacity, Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, told a meeting of the California Association of School Boards, according to Laguna’s board president Bill Landsiedel. “It’s goes beyond one-to-one,” Landsiedel commented,  “because, in the future, students will be allowed to bring not just i-Phones but i-Pads and other computer-like equipment to school that’s actually not allowed now.  We need to gear up for that time. We’re overloaded at the moment.”

Guthrie said 100 large internet routers will accommodate 9,000 concurrent connections and replace the district’s current internet infrastructure installed in 2006. Guthrie said this capacity will allow each student to use three devices, phone, laptop and tablet, simultaneously.

Samantha Washer, outgoing SchoolPower president and mother of three, said the money for the wireless upgrade was raised at the organization’s recent annual dinner dance.  Auction paddles were lifted for $1,000 increments in the Fund-A-Need project, which previously underwrote the expansion of foreign language instruction in the elementary grades.

“The plan is that at some point there’s going to be a lot more wireless devices in the classroom and to be able to handle those wireless devices, however they are given to the students, that infrastructure needs to be in place,” Washer said.

But there are limits.  “I do have a fear that if ever we got to classrooms that had no paper, we would actually start seeing a degradation of human contact and human interaction,” said Guthrie, “because people communicate differently when they use a computer, right?”

LBHS teachers Scott Wittkop and Somer Selway react to grants of $5,000 and $2,200 for an engraving machine and mobile display case, respectively.

LBHS teachers Scott Wittkop and Somer Selway react to grants of $5,000 and $2,200 for an engraving machine and mobile display case, respectively.

Guthrie said he rarely uses a computer at home. “You sit in front of a computer for a number of hours, you have to get up and give your eyes a chance to rest and walk around and talk to people.  I don’t think we’re going to supplement any of the good instruction we have with a computer or a robot.  There’s still the need for human interaction.”

For further info on the district’s plans, view LBUSD Tech Promo on its website by clicking on “more LBUSD videos.” (http://vimeopro.com/lbusd/videos/video/65933724)

 

Photos courtesy of School Power.

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