/ Modified sep 11, 2015 4:36 p.m.

Many Arizona Schools Need Wireless Upgrades for iPads

New technologies are meant to prepare students for careers, but lack of access hampers process.

iPad schools
Courtesy: secureedgenetwork.com via kawc.org

By Stephanie Sanchez, Arizona Science Desk

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Yuma- iPads are in the hands of hundreds of K-12 students in Arizona schools as they attempt to integrate new technologies and prepare students for future careers.

That educational process is hindered in some districts because schools struggle to provide high-speed internet access. Many schools need thousands of dollars so they can upgrade their school network infrastructures.

Mateo Heras,7, showed off his favorite game on his brand new iPad.

Mateo learned how to build roller coasters on an app that exposes him to the world of physics and engineering. It is one of many educational games Mateo downloaded at school.

The second grade student is among the thousands of students and teachers in the Crane Elementary School District who will download, upload, email, work or play online after the introduction of iPads.

"I felt happy," Heras said. "We usually don't have iPads at home or school."

Hundreds of kids with iPads in the classroom are a challenge for schools without a modern internet infrastructure. Access can be slower and bottleneck the system. That is why Trina Siegfried, grant writer for Crane Elementary School District, has filled out a lot of grant applications to improve access.

"AT&T invited us to write a grant for cellular data service on the iPads. So we are waiting to get final word whether we have been awarded that or not," Siegfried said.

"But Apple was gracious enough to provide us with cellular enabled devices for all of our students," she said. "So if we are awarded the grant through AT&T, our students would have access to the Internet to send homework back and forth to their teacher, to reach out via email, as well as collaborating (with) one another on projects.”

iPads enabled with cellular data service work a lot like a cell phone. With the help of the grant, students will be able to work online at home if needed. Other school districts in Yuma County have also worked to amp up on-site networks.

Yuma Union High School District and Yuma Elementary School District One recently signed a long-term lease agreement with WANRack. WANRack provides high-speed private fiber-optic networks to schools nationwide. They will work in Yuma to connect 25 sites in the two school districts.

The upgrade will connect nearly 20,000 students and staff.

WANRack networks provide unlimited bandwidth without the bottlenecks or the security and reliability concerns that plague users of shared public networks.

“It’s a great opportunity for not just for our schools, but going down this road it will be advantageous for our entire community," said Dean Farar, director of the Yuma Educational Technology Consortium. "It adds another service provider for our community.”

Once the school day is over, some students face another obstacle. Some of Mateo’s fellow students may not be so lucky because their families simply cannot afford Internet access at home.

To help close the digital divide, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a partnership with Cox Communication. The new program could help Arizona families qualify for low-cost Internet services.

Ducey said less than half of students in low-income homes have Internet access, versus more than 90 percent in high-income families.

Other providers have also explored ways to bring internet to low income areas.

The Arizona Science Desk is a collaboration of public broadcasting entities in the state, including Arizona Public Media.

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