One area that has been altered for the better by the Internet is education. From rich districts to poor, computers are filling classrooms and libraries at a staggering rate.
In a partnership that is in its 10th year, telecommunications giant Verizon and Union City have been involved with bringing communication technologies to the classroom in new and dynamic ways. Just recently, Verizon installed high-speed Internet access in all of its schools.
Verizon's "Access New Jersey" (ANJ) initiative provides discounted high-speed telecommunications services and free equipment to New Jersey's kindergarten through 12th grade schools and public libraries.
All New Jersey schools and libraries are eligible to apply to the program, the only caveat being that they have an approved technology plan, such as the one that is mandated by the No Child left Behind Act.
The program is not free to subscribe to, although the equipment (servers, etc) is provided by Verizon free of charge.
According to Union City Board of Education officials, the program costs about $2,500 to subscribe to. But the city recoups 87 percent of that through the federal school lunch program. The reimbursement is based on the percentage of students receiving school lunches. So, in essence, the program winds up costing Union City very little per school year, which for a cash-strapped Abbott District such as Union City means a lot.
A major component of the ANJ program is free use of its Video Portal, a "managed" video network that unites New Jersey schools and libraries with each other and the world to create an interactive, Web-based learning environment.
According to Verizon New Jersey President Dennis Bone, "Verizon has made it a priority over the years to support education, particularly through the use of technology in the classroom. Verizon's Access New Jersey program is enabling Union City teachers to incorporate technology into the learning process for students." Added Bone, "As one of the largest private employers in New Jersey, we are committed to working with schools and nonprofits to help students better prepare for the workplace. After all, the future success of our economy depends on the success of these young people."
Verizon's initiative includes nearly 2,500 schools and public libraries statewide, and according to Verizon spokesperson Rich Young, it "involves a multi-faceted approach - voice, video and data. A big part of this program is the Video Portal. This allows schools to connect to other schools, no matter where they are, in real time."
In fact, according to Young, fourth graders from seven New Jersey school districts will be involved in a video conference on Jan. 12 wherein the participating students will be taking part in a real-time experiment with educators in a rain forest in Panama. Students will be able to follow along with the educators in Panama and ask questions and show the educators what they are doing.
In November, high school students nationwide were able to chat with sailors and pilots on the USS Enterprise, which was, at the time, stationed in the Arabian Sea.
According to Rich Young, what this does, more than anything else, is show students that there is a bigger world than the one they are used to.
"This is really opening schools up. It's extremely popular," said Young.
According to Executive Director of Technology Systems for the Union City Board of Education Gary Ramella, the partnership with Verizon allows the district to accomplish its goals. Said Ramella in a telephone interview last week, "What this program allows us to do it promote a research-based curriculum. Our students are challenged to conduct a lot of research and the Internet is an invaluable tool for that. It helps show the kids that there's a bigger world out there."
Ramella also added that as part of the program, students and teachers alike are allowed access to the districts' server from their homes. Both Union City high schools have programs, "Project Hiller" at Union Hill and "Project Bulldog" at Emerson, that allow students with home Internet availability to access the districts' server and do schoolwork at home.