Internet Service Upgrades Slated For All Guam Public Schools

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Vendor contracted by DOE rolling out improvements this week

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, August 22, 2013) – Thirty Guam public schools opened the school year with improved Internet service, and six more schools were added to the list by the end of yesterday.

By the end of this week, all 40 Guam public schools will have Internet capacity that meets the goal of obtaining federal reimbursement, said Robert Malay, the Guam Department of Education (DOE) deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability.

Last school year, the local education department missed out on federal reimbursement for Internet connection. The local government selected a vendor that wasn't able to immediately provide the schools with Internet service that meets federal reimbursement criteria.

DOE has stated that Pacific Data Systems (PDS) provided up to 10 megabits per second at each of the public school sites and 100 Mbps at DOE's network operating center last year. That meant online connection for an entire school to share was comparable to what a Guam home or small office might get.

With last school year's slow Internet, Guam DOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez last summer gave PDS a deadline of Aug. 19 to improve Internet service to all public schools, at a speed that meets federal standards for reimbursement.

Guam DOE expects PDS to deliver minimum "service speed of 1,000 Mbps" at each school site to qualify for federal reimbursement, DOE has stated.

Guam DOE has paid PDS $11,165 a month for the speed of up to 10 Mbps -- without federal reimbursement.

Guam DOE plans to reapply for federal reimbursement, to help pay for $31,775 a month that PDS will be paid once it delivers the minimum 1,000 Mbps per site.

Malay said PDS still was working to improve Internet service to four schools yesterday because of "unforeseen circumstances."

Inarajan Elementary, Inarajan Middle and Talofofo Elementary, and Untalan Middle School's Tiyan campus were expected to have Internet service that meets federal reimbursement standards by the end of this week, according to DOE. Malay said the contractor was still working to get the four schools connected with higher-bandwidth Internet connections.

PDS has had difficulty getting a government permit to begin digging trenches to lay fiber cables to the schools, Pacific Daily News files state.

Window to the world

For one of the schools that now has improved Internet speed and bandwidth, the change was appreciated at a classroom Tuesday.

Price Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Donny Castro said it took him less than a minute to download a lesson on adjectives from the Internet.

Last school year, Castro said, some of his instructional time went to waste because the class kept waiting for lessons to download. There were times last school year when Castro said he ran out of time for a lesson before he could successfully download a lesson.

This time, Castro, said, "it is faster."

"To download a lesson, it took me a minute or so," the fifth-grade teacher said.

New way of learning

In Castro's class, fifth-grade students were transported from the traditional Guam DOE way of learning.

Instead of opening their thick, hardcover textbooks, the fifth-graders focused all eyes on a "smart board," which is a giant screen similar in height to a traditional classroom chalkboard, and which opens a virtual window for students to go on a learning tour to anywhere in the world and beyond.

Castro's students were engaged, raising their hands, blurting out answers, with their eyes glued on the smart board as they described the colors and shapes of a rainbow-hued beach ball, a green-and-brown sea turtle, a giant whale and, as what one of the students described, a "fat" fish.

Before the smart board lit up, the students weren't as engaged, and Malay, who visited the class, noticed that two boys in the back row were beginning to argue.

When the smart board began to show pictures of sea creatures and the beach, Malay said, all of the students were immediately drawn in.

"It's just amazing," Malay said of the way the students reacted to the lessons delivered via the smart board and how the teacher got them talking.

Federal grants paid for the smart boards in some of the island's science, technology and math-oriented public schools. The schools also have mobile computer labs, also thanks to federal funds that made the gadgets available beginning last school year.

At Price Elementary, one mobile computer lab -- a rolling cart that can transport 30 laptops and a power charging station -- is available for each of the elementary grades.

When Internet was slow last year, some of the Guam public schools had difficulty allowing their students to go online with 20 or 30 laptops at a time.

This time, DOE expects the Internet service to allow multiple online use by students to be hassle-free.

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