The Power of E-Rate: Providing opportunities at Swan River School District

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Swan River School District

Swan River School District

Imagine not having access to the Internet. Now imagine if you were a teacher. Could you teach a 21 Century curriculum without adequate access to the education resources on the Internet? Like many schools in Montana, and indeed across the county, Swan River School District struggled with adequate Internet access for their teachers, much less their students. Thanks to a unique partnership with the Federal E-rate program, NCCE, and CenturyLink, Swan River School District was able to increase their bandwidth tenfold this year.

Eric Chambers

Eric Chambers: Director of E-rate for NCCE

The process, begun over a year ago, was made possible by the Federal E-rate Program, which reimburses schools and libraries for some of the cost of providing Internet access to their students or patrons. Like many Federal programs, the application process is complicated. Mistakes are common and often lead to denials of funds. Others never even apply. That’s why many districts, including Swan River School District, work with E-rate consultants like NCCE to ensure their applications are submitted correctly and on time. Says Principal Marc Bunker, “Swan River Schools is very thankful for NCCE and Eric’s help with our fiber project. I appreciate everything Eric has done to keep this year-long process moving. It is very necessary to have technology in place for our rural students in Montana.” Eric Chambers is Director of E-rate for Northwest Council for Computer Education.

This is the second collaboration between NCCE and Swan River. In 2017 Eric helped the District secure a new wireless network-also paid for, in part, by the e-rate program.

Student learning opportunities

New student learning opportunities with high speed internet

What does this mean for the students? “Bringing fiber into our rural school ensures our students will no longer have to fight for bandwidth in their classrooms! Teachers and students will be able to access online learning materials, which will foster critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills. We are truly grateful for everything NCCE, Eric, and CenturyLink have done to make this a reality,” says Shelley Emslie, Swan River Fifth Grade and Middle School Art teacher.

Eric has been providing E-rate services for schools and libraries in the northwest for 15 years, the last three with NCCE. NCCE is most often recognized for hosting the largest education technology conference in the northwest as well as providing professional development to teacher around the globe. Three years ago, NCCE started an E-rate program to better support the schools in the region. NCCE CEO Heidi Rogers says, “Most of the work we do is to support teachers’ use of technology in the classroom. With our E-rate program, we are able to help schools improve their technology infrastructure, which allows teacher to make the most use of technology in the classroom.”

E-rate, formally known as the Schools and Library Program of the Universal Service Fund, was created by the Telecommunications Act of 1992. E-rate is a federal program under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and administered by the Universal Services Administration Company (USAC) and reimburses schools and libraries for eligible telecommunications expenses including internet access and hardware necessary to bring connectivity to the classroom. More information about NCCE E-Rate.

“Working with NCCE and Eric has been an essential part to this project coming to fruition. Eric has been there for every aspect of the project, and we could not have done it without him” added Shelley Emslie.

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Mike is currently the Instructional Program Director for the Montana Digital Academy, Montana's state virtual school. Teaching Elementary and Middle school, technology directing, grant writing, presenting, and now managing instruction at a virtual school has given Mike a wide range of experiences in the educational field. Being able to teach and lead technology integration has brought a great pedagogic balance to Mike’s facilitation/instruction. With degrees from Carroll College (Elementary Education), Boise State University (Educational Technology), and pursuing a doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Montana, Mike is well versed in both content and technology integration. Mike has been honored as an Outstanding Teacher by the Helena Education Foundation and winner of the ISTE “Making IT Happen” award. Mike is a NCCE Tech-Savvy Teacher in Residence and blogs regularly at the NCCE blog.