All I Want for Christmas...
Around this time of year, I think about Spike Jones & His City Slickers, who sang the infamous song, "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" -- a melody showing what Christmas is all about for a kid who wants something more than presents or toys and candy. While I won't sing a tune, I will tell a story about what 183 kids in a southern Florida school need.
I recently completed a significant build-out of a campus infrastructure that included layering in a WLAN. While the process was complex and lengthy, the deeper conversations I had with the teachers and administrators while there were also significant.
The school was challenged with getting into a more positive technology position, requiring updated infrastructure to support new devices and an online learning curriculum. Budgets being tight, I had to ask its maintenance staff to do work they wouldn't have typically done. The staff was asked to help install badly needed new infrastructure, including conduit, cabling, fiber, and equipment cabinets, in addition to digging trenches to replace and repair underground conduit connected to other buildings. This whole process led me to develop a good friendship with Edgar, a retired machinist who taught me some pretty cool fixes along the way as we built out this infrastructure of PVC, Cat-6P/UTP, and fiber.
Edgar and I set out to clean up the campus cabling, because the broadband provider that installed aerial cables for older services refused to remove their old cabling. One thing I've learned well over the years is that installing the right materials for areas with weather challenges -- like being in a hurricane zone, for example -- will make all the difference. And in the case of this school, it has thus far. We also resolved a 'Wi-Fi Gone Wrong' effort; replacing it with a viable hosted solution put the school in a much better technology and connectivity position. All these events took place in May through August, which unfortunately is during the hot season. But I'm happy to report that the sweat equity is paying off.
But of course, just when you think you are making progress and things are looking up, something blows up. Such was the case in this story, as a giant iguana chose this point in time to scale the power pole and toast itself, blowing the transformer in the process. No, I'm not kidding. Unfortunately, this caused a surge which damaged some of the gear onsite. But no matter, we pushed forward with the project to revitalize the school's technology position -- just a little road bump.
As I touched on earlier, one of the forces driving this infrastructure refresh was the school's plans to move students to an online curriculum. Additionally, the school was striving to achieve a one-to-one student to device ratio, an initiative many schools across the country are undergoing. This school in my story has enrollment of 225 students, and needs 183 Chromebooks to close the gap and meet that one-to-one goal. With the help of multiple fundraisers and funds from the E-Rate program, the school has been able to pay for its much needed infrastructure -- one that, if I might say so myself, is running lean and mean.
I've been able to add some endpoint protection for the staff computers using a free service from Avast and rebuild all the workstations on campus. My IT buddy in D.C. has been assisting me by giving me punch lists of tasks to knock out on the workstations, as well as spending countless hours pro bono remotely fixing servers. I should also mention, Microsoft's free and reduced licensing for education, Tech Soup, and Google's free services for education have been instrumental in getting software and services to this school, too.
The to-do list for this school's technology revitalization seems never ending. Even so, we seem to have made small successes and advances. With a limited number of devices the school does have -- consisting mostly of 6-year old iPads and 7-year old MacBooks -- the school manages to utilize technology for both online testing (assessment) and curriculum applications. The devices are shared and moved between classes when teachers need them.
This brings me to "All I Want for Christmas" ... Chromebooks that are no longer needed would be a huge blessing to this school and the many other schools around the country that are in similar positions. I know old devices are out there, and as technology ages, they eventually get dumped, boxed, or forgotten about. Consider donating your old devices to schools in need this holiday season.
Wishing you all the very best of happy holidays and a Merry Christmas.