A need for speed: District installing additional access points for faster Internet access

By TRAViS M. WHITEHEAD

Staff Writer

HARLINGEN — Will you hurry up.

That’s one scenario possibly being played out by high school students trying to connect to the Internet with their digital devices. They have work to do and they need to access websites, but it’s taking way too long.

Who’s being difficult? The iPhone? The iPad?

None of the above, as it turns out.

The use of digital devices in class has become so popular there just aren’t enough access points to meet the demand. Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South are BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) schools, so digital devices are gaining popularity as viable research tools. Students download Google Apps, online book apps, and online library resources, and they’re able to collaborate with experts throughout the world.

However, they’re only viable if they can access the Internet, and that has become a problem lately.

That’s about to change. James Pearcy, director of technology for the Harlingen school district, is installing more access points in both high schools so students can more easily log-on. He began the $620,000 project in December and expects to finish in February. It’s being paid for by the extra tax dollars collected through the recent tax ratification election.

Pearcy said students, teachers and administrators have experienced difficulty because there has been only one access point for every four classrooms. As a result, there are times when up to 100 students are trying to connect to the Internet through one access point. With that kind of load, each student receives a diminished amount of power. Videos take longer to download, and some apps may not download fast enough.

Pearcy is addressing the problem with new cabling and access points.

“The project is actually adding one Wi-Fi access point to every single classroom on both the South campus and the Harlingen High School campus,” he said.

Internet access has become increasingly important in classrooms throughout the district, said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development.

“We use it a lot to make sure that we’re going to stay connected to current events, and we use a lot of apps to enhance what we’re doing with the learning,” she said.

She appreciated Pearcy’s work with the upgrades.

“Sometimes the system will get a little sluggish when so many classrooms are participating in BYOD,” she said. “The infrastructure will make the ease of accessing those tools a lot easier and a lot quicker.”

Pearcy said the issue isn’t about power. In 2012 he talked about plans to upgrade the district’s infrastructure in preparation for what? Mobile devices that would eventually arrive in the classroom.

Fast forward to 2016. Pearcy has upgraded the infrastructure from six megabytes per second to 100 megabytes per second. Digital devices have poured into the classrooms as part of the district’s digital learning initiative. Students – and teachers – are using them in a broad range of activities.

Students use them for collaboration through cloud-based applications like document storage and sharing, Pearcy said. They’re also valuable for research through online textbook and subject resources, and they enhance project-based learning activities.

There’s plenty of power for these activities. The problem is accessing it.

“The power in the background is still big,” Pearcy said. “The power and everything, the connectivity, the bigger band width is there but it’s not being fully utilized because we’ve got a link in the chain that’s a bottleneck, which are the access points.”

Yesterday afternoon he was on-site at the Harlingen High School library where workers were installing access points. One stood on a ladder where he mounted a grid bracket into the ceiling. He would then install the access point onto the bracket.

Wait a minute. The libraries are getting them too? Apparently so.

“We are putting them in different places, four or five in large public areas,” he said.

Outside the library, a shiny new pipe ran along the eaves, carrying new fiber optic cables to the access points.

“They are going to the different wings, to the hallways, so the students can have digital access,” he said.

Soon, the new cabling and access points will bring students closer to the global community as they connect to numerous sources throughout the world. Their world will become at once smaller and then bigger, as far away places are at their fingertips.