Internet access changing look of local education

Published 9:22 am Monday, October 2, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Technology and internet access are opening new opportunities for students as an integral part of Chilton County Schools classrooms. However, some schools still face challenges in using technology to its full educational potential.

Recent technology infrastructure and device upgrades have been made possible through Alabama Ahead Act and e-rate funding.

“That grant (Ahead Act) put internet in rural areas, like Maplesville, so now we are at peak across the district,” Chilton County Schools Superintendent Tommy Glasscock said.

Steven Hunter, principal at Maplesville High School, said internet speeds have doubled from five years ago, but are still slow.

Giving each student a specific login account and eliminating cellphone access to the network has also helped.

“It is to the point that we are operating much smoother than we were last year,” Kathy Hand, media specialist at MHS said of internet speeds.

Hunter said there are many things the school would like to do, but cannot because of slow internet speeds. He encourages teachers to find lesson resources online and use the Google Classroom platform.

“I think YouTube is a great teaching tool, there are so many good lessons that are on YouTube,” Hunter said. “It is a fantastic teaching tool (when) used the right way.”

However, if more than one class wants to access a video to stream for class at the same time, it slows down the internet speeds.

Internet access 

All Chilton County Schools have internet through fiber optics. According to technology coordinator Kim Arrington, MHS was the final school to receive fiber connection. This was completed in November 2016.

Upgrades to the IHS wireless internet have helped them make the most of the internet capacity coming in to the school. MHS also has a good wireless system with routers having been upgraded in recent years.

Hunter said Maplesville, like many schools in the county, is working toward having enough Chromebooks, the school system’s laptop of choice, so that every student has one.

Glasscock said he was excited that all of the schools seemed on board with embracing integrating more technology into teaching. A survey with 316 respondents after the 2017-2018 teacher in-service showed 95.6 percent feel the school system is headed in the right direction when it comes to technology.

Too many devices on the network at one time slows down connection speeds.

To combat this, the school has created a credentialing system.

“We have it fixed now that kids will be able to log in with their own credentials,” Hunter said.  “What that has done for us is it is keeping all of the cell phones from logging on.”

Each student has an individual login, but it will block cell phones, thus keeping the internet speeds from slowing down due to too many devices.


More Chromebooks are needed to ensure each student can access resources.

“We want to get to one-to-one as fast as we can… I think we’ll be better off if we can do that,” Hunter said. “So, we are trying to find ways to purchase Chromebooks every chance we get.”

Title 1 funding has helped with this. Every school in Chilton County receives Title 1 federal funding, which is available to schools where more than 50 percent of students are in the free and reduced lunch program. Hunter said this pays for a teacher at Maplesville, and the remaining funds are used for new computers and technology. Hunter said teachers have also written grants in hopes of receiving funds for technology for their classroom.

“What I have found is you have got to have people that are willing to beat the bushes and shake the trees because there is money out there. It just takes somebody finding it,” Hunter said.

IHS is more than halfway toward having enough Chromebooks for every student to have a device. Title 1 funds have helped the school purchase many of these devices, and will be used on the future.

Glasscock said Title 1 funds that have been used for salaries in the past are now being used to purchase Chromebooks at many schools.

“We felt like with more technology, we could possibly do with less employees in some cases,” Glasscock said.

The amount of Title 1 funding a school receives is based on the number of student at the school.

Local funds are also allocated to the schools by the district’s technology committee for based on need.

Grants have also been applied for and received by individual schools to purchase Chromebooks. Glasscock said local churches have also donated to the initiative.

“We have six classrooms in high school that have their own Chromebook cart and … we have several carts that are rotated or shared among the elementary,” said Isabella High School Principal Ricky Porter. “I think each grade level either … has a cart or shares a cart.”

With all the support the idea is getting, Glasscock estimates that the school system will have a Chromebook for every child in another year.

“The challenge is going to be at what point do we allow those students to take those devices home,” Glasscock said.”… Parents would have to be a little more accountable, a little bit more responsible for the device.”

A policy, much like the current one charging students for losing a textbook, would be put in place.

Digital textbooks are beginning to replace their paper counterparts. All CCS high schools are using electronic textbooks for math. Hunter said Maplesville environment science is using an online textbook. The principal said he hopes to see the use of this electronic texts increase.

“We have stacks and stacks of textbooks and they wear out,” Hunter said. “Whereas if you are using a virtual book from a virtual library, they don’t wear out. You don’t have to worry about a kid having a torn book or a torn page and not being able to read something.”

Glasscock said a lack of internet accessibility would not keep students from being able to complete work.

“We are finding even in rural Chilton County, it is a small percentage of our kids that don’t have access,” Glasscock said.

Local libraries also provide internet access.

The electronic textbooks being used by the school system are entirely online. The content can be accessed from any computer with internet access through the student’s user account.

Google Classroom

Resources and homework assignments for many classes have also gone digital through Google Classroom.

Glasscock said Google classroom allows students to complete an assignment and put it on hold, then upload it when they have access to the internet.

Using this platform has also cut down on the amount of money the school system was spending to print resources.

“They can be linked to a video and they can watch videos,” Hand said. “It is really an awesome tool for the teachers to use because they can upload their documents and their links …and the child can sit down and complete the work in their time schedule. It is really great for when teachers are out and have a sub. The teachers can upload the information at home … never have been in their classroom and the kids can still get their work done.”

She said students have enjoyed using the platform in their classes.

Through Google Classrooms, students can access course work and documents that have been uploaded, as well as homework they are working on, anywhere there is an internet connection. Hand said it also makes collaboration and sharing documentation easier. Glasscock said about 90 percent of CCS classrooms from elementary to high school use Google Classroom.

“Some of the advantages I’ve seen are for students to be able to access work outside of the classroom,” Brittany Yeargan, fourth-grade teacher at MHS, said.  “It works well for me also having two small children. If one of them wakes up sick in the middle of the night or early in the morning and I don’t have time to get plans together for a substitute, If they log in to Google Classroom, then they can access anything that I may send them.”

She said she uses Google Classroom the most for language arts /reading.

“Since documents are saved virtually, files are less likely to get lost and students do not have to keep up with a flash drive,” Hand said.  “It’s a great way to go paperless and still be able to keep up with all the work.”

Connected classes

Faster internet speeds have brought more opportunities are to students. Many students can take classes not offered at their school through the Alabama Connecting Classrooms Educators Students Statewide program. The program allows students to complete work online and communicate with teachers through email. A local facilitator is on site to assist with the program. At Maplesville, health, forestry and business technology are popular courses.

Allison McClure, MHS ACCESS facilitator, said the online format helps students prepare for college because many college courses have an online classroom component.

About 130 IHS students take ACCESS courses, Porter said. Some of the popular classes are Spanish and credit recovery.

“We don’t have a certified Spanish teacher, so we take the Spanish classes pretty much through ACCESS,” Porter said

An eighth-grade class is doing an advanced writing course through ACCESS.

Many online programs are also used at the elementary level as well.

Elementary students at IHS use the internet-based program Reflex Math on a daily basis, said Assistant Principal Sue Ellen Gilliland. Many CCS schools use the program to help students learn basic math in a fun way.

MyON, an online digital library, is used to access nonfiction reading material. Gilliland said the program helps students determine what reading level they are on and what their interests are, and then provides access to books that meet that criteria. Students then take a comprehension test online.

“They can have access to these books 24/7 and they tailor their book selection,” Gilliland said.

Programs are also used to help teachers document a student’s progress and provide individualized tutoring.

Many of the programs used at IHS could be accessed and used on mobile device.

Gilliland said books can be downloaded from MyON, eliminating the need for internet access.

Keeping students on task is being emphasized by using Go Guardian, a program that allows teachers to see the student’s screens and make sure they are not on websites unrelated to what is being studied, Porter said.

Some IHS students also work with technology as a part of the Tech Team, Green said.

“These are students that have an interest and a skill. Sometimes I ask them how to do something,” Green said. “They are really dependable. they will go to a classroom and whatever the issue is they will get it up and running.”

The future 

As Chilton County Schools moves closer to having a Chromebook for every student, there may come a time when students can take them home with them to complete their homework.

Hand said internet is available “sporadically” throughout Maplesville. AT&T has recently increased its service to the area.

In the Isabella community, satellite internet is popular.

“There are different results with that, and that is an issue when we expect kids to go home after school and use the internet – You know for the ones around here that don’t have access,” Porter said.

Access to the internet is available in Isabella through Verizon on mobile devices and is dependable, Porter said.

“Other than that, it is hard for us to send kids home and expect them to do internet work,” Porter said.

Future plans for CCS include encouraging teachers to use this technology to provide courses, such as art, through one CCS teacher being accessed through Google Classrooms.  Upgrades to a classroom to add a large viewing screen would be a part of this.

“We would like to expand … virtual field trips, virtual labs,” Porter said.

He said the virtual labs are interactive, allowing students to see specific areas of the project, such as a dissection. Each student would be able to access the presentation on their Chromebook.

Gilliland said the elementary grades are discussing the possibility of schoolwide video broadcasts using the internet.