Fonda-Fultonville welcomed U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara on Aug. 10 as they announced a bill to help establish broadband services in rural areas. This affects approximately 11 percent of Fonda-Fultonville students who say they have limited access to broadband internet at their homes.
Gillibrand is promoting a federal bill that would provide funds to help establish the infrastructure needed for service providers to offer broadband in areas that do not currently have it. The bill is known as the B-CROP Act, which stands for the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act.
Board of Education President Matt Sullivan spoke on the district’s behalf about the importance of establishing broadband in all areas for the benefit of FFCS students and the greater community.
“The establishment of broadband services in our school district’s rural areas is critical. In the past several years, Fonda-Fultonville has made it a priority to integrate technology into our classrooms to make sure our students will be successful in college and career,” Sullivan said.
Because some students cannot access the internet at home, Fonda-Fultonville provides them with opportunities outside of the regular school day by opening computer labs after school. The district is also exploring the possibility of school-owned hot spots, and testing the cost and technical feasibility of wifi on school buses.
“These initiatives, however, offer less benefits compared to dedicated broadband at students’ homes, and require resources that could be better used for the district’s academic program,” Sullivan said.
Fonda-Fultonville Network and Systems Administrator Jarrod Baker said although 89 percent of students have internet access at home, all it takes is one student who doesn’t have access to change a teacher’s approach to technology use in their class. Teachers are understandably reluctant to integrate technology and online components to coursework if some students don’t have access at home.
“While providing devices at school solves one part of the problem, the digital divide still exists if students have no accessibility at home,” district Educational Technology Specialist Danielle Knabe said. “Having the device serves little purpose if the student is unable to get to their assignments and review materials once they have left the building. Our goal is to close this digital divide and create a level playing field for all learners.”
The B-CROP bill would supplement state funding awarded to Montgomery County earlier this year to address this issue. Towns within the Fonda-Fultonville district that will benefit from the state funding include Charleston, Glen and the Town of Florida.
Low-cost internet service is available for families that participate in the free and reduced-price meal program. However, broadband needs to exist in those areas in order for families to take advantage of these low cost plans.