As the typical school day ends at Kent School District, in Washington state, many of our 27,000 students file onto school buses for the ride home. For some students, leaving their school’s campus means leaving internet access behind – and all that comes with it. As a forward-thinking, technology-driven district, we’ve long considered ourselves pioneers in bringing technology to students, and we’re proud of our mature, successful one-to-one laptop initiative. However, there still exists a digital divide to conquer.
Kent’s success in today’s digital world is, in part, reliant on electronic resources and timely, effective communications. This includes the delivery of educational programming, access to online tools, and leveraging technology to aid in the overall learning experience. Our laptop initiative provides the hardware and software for secondary students to complete homework assignments and collaborate digitally. But how do those students and their families take advantage of these tools if they’re not connected to the internet before and after school?
Enter the STAR program.
STAR, which stands for Student Technology Access & Resources, is a project that is changing the way we provide equitable access to technology resources for students. At the center of this project are touch-interactive kiosks equipped with digital signage displays. The interactive interface hooks parents into our student information system, and allows them to check their children’s grades, attendance, upcoming assignments, and important announcements. Additionally, visitors may access lunch menus, student calendars, job openings, volunteer opportunities, and more.
While this avenue of garnering parent engagement is important, what makes these kiosks really unique is their 75-foot radius of free wi-fi. We’ve strategically placed these kiosks in housing communities with the lowest connectivity rates to help create a bridge between students’ district-issued laptops and the problematic lack of internet access at home.
Increasing student achievement requires strong partnerships and commitments among educators, businesses, and the community. And naturally providing access for students and their families doesn’t come without a cost, and our district has used donations and partnerships to help defray the costs associated with the kiosks.
By using the digital signage display, Kent bases its business sponsorship levels on the time each sponsoring business’ advertisement displays on the top screen. While the interactive interface and wi-fi remains uninterrupted, this ad space allows the district to recoup costs for procuring, maintaining, and supporting the hardware; thus, creating a program that is fiscally self-sustaining and exemplifies responsible stewardship of taxpayer investments. Host locations provide the wireless access, so there is no ongoing cost to the district.
As the STAR program is the first of its kind, Kent continually plans upgrades and improvements with the focus squarely on educating students. On the horizon: adding video to the kiosks in five of the most common foreign languages spoken in our district. With the positive outcome of the kiosk program pilot, expansion is also in the works. Recently, the Kent School District has also begun planning the addition of digital signage displays in schools, focused on informational content such as wayfinding, announcements, events, and more. Additionally, signage will begin to be used in cafeterias to display nutritional information of lunch offerings and prices.