When Richard Culatta, the director of the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, asked a packed room of assembled educators, policymakers and other school stakeholders if they have basic Wi-Fi in their school classrooms, most raised their hands.
When he later asked if anyone had taken advantage of President Barack Obama’s ConnectED initiative — which is meant to complement the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate funding by equipping students with technology and digital curricula — only a few signaled they had.
“This is a unique opportunity to actually engage in the expenditure that will put schools in a position to deliver whatever your version of connected learning is for the next 5, 10 [and] 20 years,” Edelman said of E-Rate, the only federally funded program that provides high-speed broadband to schools, paired with ConnectED. “This is funding that’s available now and only there provided that schools ask.”
The scarce show of hands in the room may be a sign that there aren’t enough school officials who know to ask.
Alx Eller (pronounced “Alex”) was one of the few teachers who did know about ConnectED and has taken advantage of Adobe Systems Inc.’s participation in the program.
Major companies like Adobe, which pledged $300 million in free software for schools that apply for the federal grant; Microsoft Corp., which is giving schools 12 million copies of Office 365; and Sprint Corp., which is providing $100 million in free Internet connectivity through its Sprint Spark network, have signed up to play a role in the initiative.
Eller, who teaches a career readiness program at North Garland High School near Dallas said students in her print imaging class use Adobe software like Photoshop and InDesign for free through ConnectED, and then they have the opportunity to receive an Adobe expert certification — an industry certification they can use to get jobs.
“It allows them the opportunity to not have to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?'” Eller told FedScoop. “They’re able to go to an ad agency as a production artist. They’re able to walk in credentialed as high school students and say, ‘I can do your catalogue stuff for you, I can create this for you.'”
Eller, who has been teaching for eight years after working in the graphic design industry, said she was lucky enough to learn about ConnectED through the district’s career and technology director. He sent her to SXSWedu to develop ideas for a new department of digital media design and technology at the school, where 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
She said the session on ConnectED and Future Ready schools, another Department of Education initiative that includes summits in different cities with tech gurus and leaders in the industry to share ideas with schools.
“It’s just a reiteration that there are programs out there,” Eller said after the seminar. “I’m able to take that knowledge back to my district and say, ‘Hey guys, check this out. Your kids don’t have to go without.'”
The deadline for schools and libraries to apply for this round of E-Rate money is March 26.