By Tim Leeds
Some local schools are taking advantage of a federal program to help them get wired for the Internet.
The federal government began the E-rate program four years ago to help schools and libraries receive telecommunications, networking and Internet services. Havre Public Schools, St. Jude Thaddeus School and Hays-Lodge Pole School have all been using the E-rate discounts.
"It's a big help," said Shannon Patterson, director of development for St. Jude's.
The program provides a subsidy for wiring schools to use technology, Internet access and telephone services. It does not apply to computers. The amount of the subsidy, from 20 to 90 percent, depends on the poverty rate of the community.
Patterson said the program has allowed St. Jude's to provide Internet access for all of the school's offices, all of the rooms in St. Jude's Havre Central junior high building and the third- and fourth-grade classrooms in the elementary building. Through the federal program, the school also gets discounts in its monthly long-distance, local and Internet provider fees.
The program helped St. Jude's get access much sooner than it would have, she added. St. Jude's has been in the program since it began.
Havre Assistant Superintendent Dennis Parman said the rates helped Havre wire all of its schools much faster too.
"We wouldn't have been able to wire the schools without E-rate," he said. "It would have been cost-prohibitive."
Havre Public Schools has a networked computer system and computers in all its classrooms with some workstations wired for Internet access.
Hays-Lodge Pole told the same story.
"With all of this E-rate funding it has completely helped us to get high-speed Internet and is keeping our schools advancing with technology," said Jim Flansburg, maintenance technician at Hays-Lodge Pole.
Flansburg said Hays-Lodge Pole is also one of three Montana schools participating in a pilot project with the SchoolAccess program of General Communications Inc., an Alaska company.
The program was originally developed to provide technology access to Alaska's rural schools. More than 70,000 Alaska students are served by SchoolAccess.
The program provides Internet security and content filtering, e-mail access, Web hosting, and network optimization and management. Flansburg said Hays-Lodge Pole is continuing to use Triangle Telephone Co., which provides high-speed DSL Internet connections to parts of its service area, for its Internet connection.
Patterson said St. Jude's is taking advantage of the technological opportunity the E-rate program has given it.
"It has given us opportunities for exposure to different technologies," she said.
The technology has been used in a variety of ways. Students have been doing Internet searches to research topics, teachers have been researching and corresponding, students have competed in the online Academic Challenge, and students have been corresponding with a sailor aboard a U.S. Navy vessel near the conflict in Afghanistan.
Parman said the Havre Public Schools are progressing well in using the technology, especially teachers who use the Internet for research.
"We're getting there," he said.
Flansburg said he's concerned whether the program will be able to continue.
"The big question is what will happen now, will it continue, will Congress continue to fund it," he said.
Everyone should be contacting their congressman and telling them, "This is really a good program, keep it up to speed," he said.
Without the E-rate discount, Flansburg said, schools might lose their Internet connections.
"We're hoping for the best," he said. "We're structuring our budget to ensure we have a good handle on today's technology."