The Murray City School District is piloting a new way of providing home Internet to its students who won’t be attending classes in person.
Officials say the system is the first of its kind for a K-12 school system in America — an innovation that could send Internet into more homes at a cost much cheaper per pupil.
About 13% of Murray’s students do not have Internet service at home. A larger number struggle to have enough bandwidth to consistently stream video content.
“We had one family with quadruplet children who were trying to all connect and work at the same time,” said technology coordinator Jason Eyre, who district brass say spearheaded the effort.
The bandwidth problem becomes more acute with many more parents working from home.
“If you’ve ever watched a 7-year-old play a video game, the worst thing that could happen is buffering,” said tech director Melissa Hamilton, noting school work is no different. “We want to eliminate that so we can keep kids engaged.”
Eyre and his team are working to send the school’s Internet to kids’ homes over CB radio waves.
Hotspot equipment can be programmed to only power school-issued devices with all the same Internet filtering students would have in the classroom.
“The students can have that same experience they have inside our buildings inside their houses,” Eyre said.
Right now the district pays Verizon up to $40/month for each individual Internet hot spot it sends home with a student.
They’ve spent $200,000 — nearly all of it CARES Act grants — on the new system that can serve a lot more households and ends monthly obligations to an Internet service provider.
“It’s a one-time cost,” Eyre said. “Once we’ve paid for it, we can use it as long as we need to.”
The strong Internet connection enables the school to push forward with live-streaming classroom activities — giving at-home students the same exact instruction as their peers in the classroom.
In the spring, video instruction was recorded and published.
“Now I can have them engage with this platform,” said Jennifer King, a longtime educator and principal at Viewmont Elementary. “Really work on application rather than merely acquiring knowledge.”
Murray officials report 25% of elementary school students have chosen an online-only fall semester. The district says the new internet system won’t be ready for day one, but it’ll be ready before the end of the first semester.