President Obama praises CVUSD’s iPad, Internet plans
President Obama praises CVUSD’s iPad, Internet plans
Posted on 11/19/2014
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President Barack Obama singled out the Coachella Valley Unified School District during a meeting with hundreds of education leaders Wednesday, praising a plan to spread Internet throughout the east valley with Wi-Fi routers mounted on school buses.

“This is really smart,” Obama said. “You’ve got underutilized resources — buses in the evening — so you put the routers on, disperse them, and suddenly everybody is connected,” Obama said. “Now it’s not just students that can get online. It’s their families as well.”

Obama’s statements were made at the White House ConnectEd Conference, which seeks to empower classrooms with technology and connect all students to high-speed Internet. During a 20-minute speech, Obama spotlighted tech-savvy districts, including an isolated Alaska agency that had rocketed into the Internet age and a Rhode Island district that had given laptops to all students.

But the president said he was especially impressed with Coachella Valley Unified, which he called “one of the poorest school districts in the country.”

“It was kind of surreal, and I was very very humbled by it,” Adams said Wednesday, speaking in a phone interview from Washington D.C. “I am so proud of the fact that the school community came together three years ago to put this in motion. There was a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get us to this point.”Superintendent Darryl Adams, who attended the speech, said he had suspected that Coachella Valley Unified might be mentioned by the president, but he couldn’t know for sure. A presidential speech writer had contacted him before the ConnectEd conference, but that was far from a guarantee, Adams said.

Coachella Valley Unified purchased iPads for all students, about 19,000, over the past two school years, and announced plan for Wi-Fi buses about two weeks ago. The iPads purchase was funded by a voter-approved bond, which ultimately brought tech to thousands of disadvantaged households.

Officials have said the tablets have the power to transform the district.

The president agreed.

“They paid for it through a bond measure, which voters overwhelmingly approved, so the whole community is committed to their children’s education,” Obama said. “Many students still don’t have internet access at home, but the district found a solution for that too. They are putting Wi-Fi routers on school buses and parking them across the district every night.”

Coachella Valley Unified has said it would like to install routers on all buses, but so far, the district is testing the idea on a smaller scale. A single router has been installed on one of the longest bus routes in the district, and a second router has been ordered.

In the evenings, the first router-equipped bus is parked overnight in a trailer park near the Salton Sea, in one of the poorest, most remote areas of the district. Students can tap into the bus router for high-speed Internet, which is otherwise unavailable in this area, from hundreds of feet away.

Antonio Raymo, the chief business official for the school district, said Coachella Valley Unified has wanted to install routers like these since at least last school year, but older versions of the routers could not withstand the desert heat.

The new model should survive, Raymo said.

“As of right now, we are just ordering two as we figure out our logistics, security and performance during the hotter months,” Raymo said. “If the pilot is successful, then we can discuss the idea of a full launch with parents and students.”

District officials have said it would cost about $270,000 to purchase routers for all buses. Adams said Tuesday he plans to install a new bus router every two or three weeks, slowly expanding throughout the district over the next year.

“We will position them in the gaps where students can’t connect,” Adams said. “Over the next 12 months, we will saturate the district.”

In a prior interview with The Desert Sun, Adams has said he considers access to the Internet as more of a civil right than a privilege. Even if students live from low-income, remote areas, they deserve the same connectivity as their richer, urban peers, he said.