Urban School District Recruits System of Support to Promote Digital Equity, Bolster Internet Access
Lafayette Parish Public Schools bridge gaps in district-wide connectivity, embraces digital learning with 1:1 initiative
 
When Lafayette Parish School System had to turn off internet streaming to meet bandwidth needs during statewide testing, technology director LaShona Dickerson knew it was time for change.
 
Dickerson’s role is to maintain networks and manage data for more than 33,000 students in her district, where her priority is to provide services that connect each student, teacher and administrator to the internet.
 
With only one gigabyte of connectivity in the high school and 100 megabytes in the elementary school, many of Dickerson’s teachers turned off streaming in order to support the necessary bandwidth to complete annual testing. In doing so, many teachers felt the pressure to deliver comprehensive instruction and lesson plans without their normal internet connectivity.
 
Competition for bandwidth began to affect instruction time, according to Dickerson. Classes were vying for important computer lab time, and as a result, disconnected students from valuable learning experiences.
 
Dickerson and her team’s first attempt to alleviate these problems was implementing laptops in the schools to accommodate for their lack of computer lab space. However, new devices didn’t address the root problem. Internet connection wasn’t strong enough to power the influx of devices being used simultaneously.
 
Building a System of Support
Because Dickerson knew she needed to bolster bandwidth with little resources, she turned to the E-rate program to help them upgrade their system. For Dickerson, the E-rate consultants at Funds For Learning were the driving force behind her district improving internet connectivity.
 
“We’ve increased and updated our infrastructure to accommodate the challenges we’ve had, and we hoped it would alleviate the stress that teachers felt in the past,” Dickerson said.
 
For the past two years, Funds For Learning has helped Dickerson capitalize on funding opportunities for internet connectivity through its guidance on the heavily regulated E-rate program.
 
“For me, Funds For Learning is like family. Since I’ve worked with them, they have been extremely responsive, I’ve always been aware of the program’s changes and I’m comfortable following their guidance. Because of them, I’m able to capitalize on what we do for our district,” Dickerson said.
                                         
Seeing the Impact of Robust Connectivity
With increased connectivity and infrastructure, Dickerson’s district was able to start rolling out a 1:1 device initiative for its students. As a result, students were empowered with technology that allowed them to plug into lessons at home or at school.
 
“[The 1:1 initiative] wasn’t just a sit and get type mentality,” Dickerson said. “I found that it has encouraged students to take on more responsibility of their own learning. It’s been a huge benefit for our district, and I don’t think we would have been able to do this without E-rate and Funds For Learning.”
 
Dickerson added that students who have been exposed to 1:1 devices tend to complete their assignments more regularly than those limited to pencil-and-paper instruction. Dickerson also explained that although the district may be putting devices into students’ hands, it’s necessary to provide connectivity solutions for students who don’t have internet access at home.
“We’ve seen some students do homework on the bus, demonstrating an anywhere, anytime mentality. Some students are using personal devices, but it’s a worry that some don’t have connections outside of school. Moving forward, I would like to change that.”
 
What’s Next for Lafayette Parish Schools?
With the help of the E-rate program, Dickerson hopes to increase internet access across her district. By 2020, Dickerson wants to achieve complete 1:1 implementation and move her district’s textbooks online.
 
“Teachers and students are learning and understanding,” Dickerson said. “Through planning, conversation and collaboration they’re able to utilize technology in some of the most influential ways.”
 
Dickerson strongly urges other districts to procure services from a consultant firm like Funds For Learning to stay focused and informed on overcoming unique challenges to implementing internet connectivity.
 
“When I’m faced with challenges and questions, I have the support of Funds For Learning and know without a doubt that our district is compliant. That is a huge benefit of having them in my corner.”