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From conducting virtual dissections to putting together podcasts, students at Arvada West High School find themselves on their devices “in every single subject for every grade,” said librarian Lindsay Garlow.
While students are online, technology coordinator Leah Lindblom monitors how many more devices the school’s network can support. And, thanks to the school’s most recent bandwidth update in February, students have seamlessly used their devices during class.
“We aren’t even filling our pipeline more than 50%, on average,” she said. “At most, we’re at 90%, and nobody feels that hit.”
For Arvada West and all Jefferson County schools, this is only the beginning.
The school district will launch its latest digital project this summer, accelerating long-discussed plans with the passage of measure 5A to complete digital improvement efforts by 2023. The approval of 5A awarded the district a $33 million mill levy override for teacher compensation and districtwide mprovements.
Included in the plan are a number of measures to promote digital learning in schools, such as increasing bandwidth for all schools, said Brett Miller, the district’s chief information officer. Bandwidth measures the rate at which data, expressed in bits or megabits, transfers across a network. The capacity is often measured in megabits per second (Mbps).
While some activities require a higher bandwidth capacity than others, the Federal Communications Commission recommends that consumers purchase a 1 Mbps capacity for adequate performance during internet browsing and emailing. For districts with 10,000 students or more, the State Educational Technology Directors Association only recommends .2 Mbps per student for online learning.
As part of the district’s plan to get to reach these benchmarks, the district has switched internet providers.
“We needed more bandwidth than we could afford on the current model,” Miller said. “This is one piece that will help improve student achievement.”
Jefferson County ranks fourth among comparable districts for bandwidth per student, weighing in at an average of .13 megabits per second (Mbps) per student. Westminster Public Schools ranks first at .22 Mbps.
Arvada West, which Miller says sees a large volume of internet use because of the number of students and amount of online learning in classrooms, supports a bandwidth of .232 Mbps per student.
While this bandwidth allows school technology to run smoothly, the district plans to implement further changes in case of growth or new technologies. Coming changes will raise capacity to roughly 1 Mbps, Miller said.
“The internet will likely be faster than home use,” he said.
Additionally, Jeffco Schools is working with local internet providers to provide reduced-cost home internet to qualifying families in the district, he said.
“The goal is equal access,” he said. “No one will be left out of this.”
With the bond money, the district also will distribute school-issued laptops and tablets — known as 1:1 devices — to all fifth- and ninth-graders in the district. The rollout will occur in phases through the 2022-2023 school year, with phase one beginning in August 2019.
Those devices, which some Arvada West students have used since 2016, afford the students “the connection they need to make the contribution they want to make,” Lindblom said.
Principal Geree Santarelli said she looks forward to the upcoming advancements, adding the school will continue prioritizing digital learning.
“We’ve been a leader in this field,” she said, “with the goal to really prepare our kids in their studies and post-high school.”
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