Access is just about everything in school. When suburban Kennett Consolidated School district in Pennsylvania went wireless two years ago, it opened worlds to students that would not normally be available.
The district's elementary schools already have a wireless Local Area Network, and the new middle school opening this September will also be connected. Cable wiring means a student has to be at a station at a set location to access the Internet, while wireless LAN allows students to be anywhere in school.
"It really opened up many more instructional possibilities for our teachers because they didn't have to rely on kids going to a lab and sitting down and doing computer work," says Edward Bureau, director of instructional services at Kennett. "Now, there is no problem for teachers trying to drag instructional materials down to the lab."
Wireless also means the district has access to the Internet and server files, Bureau says. Most classrooms have Apple iBook laptops and/or desktops, mainly funded through the district. The district has a $200,000 lease for the equipment, servers, desktops and laptops. Each wireless sending point, of which the district has three, costs about $200, Bureau says.
A district-wide area network also hooks up each building in the district with fast Internet access, funded with a federal Technology Literacy Challenge Fund Grant, Bureau says.
Chester County Intermediate Unit, which provides support services to 12 school districts in Chester County, Pa., watched wireless take hold in many districts two years ago, says John Branson, director of educational technologies. "In the long run, I'm sure it's less expensive than running cable throughout a [school] building," Branson says.
Branson adds that a wireless LAN is especially cost-efficient for districts with old buildings that have to be retrofitted with cables and might have asbestos in their walls, which cannot be disturbed for health reasons. "Getting cabling everywhere you need it in a school becomes quite an ordeal," Branson says, adding that many schools could pay some or much of the cost of a wireless LAN through grants or E-rate funds.