Chester County schools partners with TruVista to increase Internet accessibility

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comSeptember 20, 2013 

Instead of teaching or going to class or running their businesses, more than 100 students, teachers, administrators and community members from Chester County turned out at the Gateway Conference Center in Richburg on Friday to celebrate the district’s 1:1 technology initiative.

The initiative is called hiTEC, which stands for “Helping Integrate Technology, Education and Careers.”

Also Friday, a partnership was announced between TruVista Communications, a telecommunications company serving several rural counties in South Carolina, including Chester, and the Chester County School District. The partnership will make it easier for students to access the Internet when they’re not in school.

The company will be placing wireless networks, or WiFi, at numerous community locations across the county that will only be accessible to teachers and students with Chester County School District-owned devices. Starting this year, every teacher and all high school students were given or will be given their own HP Elite tablet computer.

The exact locations and the number of the new WiFi networks and the hours that they’ll be available to students are still being decided, said district spokesperson Brooke Clinton.

“I’m pleased to be a part of this endeavor,” said Brian Singleton, president and CEO of TruVista.

In Chester, just more than half of all households have access to broadband Internet, he said. Nationwide, the average is 80 percent.

“Access to the Internet has become a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have,” he said.

Many of the speakers at Friday’s event said this type of partnership between a private business and a public school system was unique, especially in rural communities. And several of the speakers attributed the development of the partnership and hiTEC to Superintendent Agnes Slayman, who started in that position in 2012.

“There was still something missing to let hiTEC reach its full potential,” Slayman told the crowd of the decision to pursue the agreement with TruVista.

Slayman thanked community board members, officials and businesspeople, along with an anonymous donor, for their support of the project and for offering their facilities as spots where WiFi will be available to students.

“In true Chester fashion, members from our community came together without hesitation,” she said.

Other speakers included Callie Murphy, a senior at Lewsville High School who thanked the community for helping students “bridge the technology gap”; school board chair Maggie James; and career center director Lee Green.

Following the formal presentation, attendees met with teachers, students and technology specialists, who demonstrated how technology could be used in the classroom, including the new tablets and Promethean boards, which are like digital, interactive white boards that are now in every Chester classroom.

Chester High School math teacher Jamie Counterman showed Karen Kerr, the director of adult education, how to use the tablet to Skype into a classroom at the high school.

During the formal presentation, Counterman said he was “shocked” when he learned Chester would be implementing a 1:1 initiative. In many homes, he said, the school-provided device will serve as the family computer and open up the world.

“As a Chester County native, I believe we will soon witness a climactic change in the lifestyles of Chester County residents,” Counterman said.

A technology specialist with the district, Demorrious Robinson, sat at a table showing Curtis LeMay how the tablets work.

LeMay is the art teacher at Lewisville High School.

“I was interested in seeing what the tablet had to offer,” he said.

As a business teacher at Great Falls High School, Tim Smith said he thinks technology has a lot to offer his students.

One of his students, senior Breanna Howze, said she likes the Microsoft-based HP Elite tablet better than the Apple iPad, another tablet device.

“We’re really going to enjoy it,” she said of having the devices in class. “It’s going to help prepare us for the future.”

And that’s the point of incorporating technology, Slayman said.

“This is important because our students are the future workforce,” she said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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