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School libraries get tech upgrades

February 18, 2016
By Jeremy Izzio (editorial@westfieldrepublican.com) , Westfield Republican

BROCTON - With the transition to a digital model, many students in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties are being left behind their peers. Whether it be caused by financial constraints or internet access being available in rural homes, students without internet access are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to academics.

With that in mind, the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, in conjunction with the Brocton and Westfield school systems, is attempting to alleviate some of that disparity between the haves and have-nots.

"We have been hearing the past few years that students need technology after school more and more," said Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System Executive Director Eli Guinnee. "As more and more homework goes online, more resources are online and more teacher communication is online, we are seeing the students who don't have hardware and internet at home are at a disadvantage.

Article Photos

Photo by Jeremy Izzio
Pictured at left is Executive Director of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System Eli Guinnee giving a presentation on satellite classrooms and shared services at a recent Brocton Board of Education meeting. Also pictured, at far right, is Julie Putcher, library director at Ahira Hall Memorial Library.

"In this area, we serve the poorest area in the state. In Chautauqua and Cattaraugus we have some of the poorest libraries and communities so it's especially important for us. We also have some of the poorest broadband speeds and some communities just can't afford it, period. So we started looking at ways to at least get our libraries really good technology so the kids without access to at-home technology could go to their library and use its resources."

Last year the federal eRate funding rules changed to allow the connection between a library and school to be eRate funded. The eRate for libraries is 90 percent, which means the maintenance on the connection is funded at 90 percent and the partnership is fiscally sound.

A pilot program was started with Brocton and Westfield, and once connected, the schools donated a share of their data to the library. Incentive grants were given to the library to help improve the quality of the after-school programs and in turn the library agreed to provide enhanced after-school services.

All IT staff now works together to provide firewall protection and content filtering. The library Internet traffic is completely separated so there are no risks to the school. In return for technical support, the libraries expanded their after-school programs.

A librarian is on staff to help students with homework and motivate them to do it. An incentives program has also helped with marketing of the program and keeps children motivated to take part.

The situation has been viewed by all involved as a win-win-win.

The library wins through reliable Internet and faster speeds at a lower cost. Close collaboration with the school means the library is aware of upcoming assignments and projects and can prepare to assist students that need help. Incentive grants from CCLS help meet the costs of increased services.

The Ahira Hall Memorial Library has improved its computers, software on the computers, Internet filtering and wireless access. Internet speeds at AHML have been increased to from 10.12 mb download/1.2 mb upload to 94.45 mb download/98.13 mb upload.

The school wins because students have better options for research and homework after school hours. Communication with the library improves resources for students and the collaboration has zero associated costs for the school.

Finally, and most importantly, the students win via access to quality high-speed broadband during after-school hours while library-school communication means better services and an increased chance to succeed. AHML has someone available from 2:45 to 5 p.m. every day to work with kids and offer healthy snacks.

While Brocton and Westfield are the first in the area to take advantage of the new eRate, and some of the first in the nation to do so, other schools in the area may be getting on board.

Contact your local library to find out what programs are available in your area and inquire about the possibility of after-school programs in the future.

 
 
 

 

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