Fort Mill Times

Donations bridging the technology gap at Lake Wylie school

Oakridge Middle School students Alex Roll, Krista Howell, Trace Thompson and Aylesha Wade work on iPads at the school.
Oakridge Middle School students Alex Roll, Krista Howell, Trace Thompson and Aylesha Wade work on iPads at the school.

It used to be, students could use a little help getting supplies like paper, pencils, maybe a protractor. But school needs are changing. One Clover school decided it would, too.

Nicole Thompson and Daniel Beels at Oakridge Middle School see technology all around them. The Clover School District is putting it in the hands of students at every level. The Oakridge administrator and teacher, however, wonder about students after they leave campus. They called their provider Comporium, and a partnership formed.

“We are trying to provide Internet service to our students who do not have access to the Internet without our help,” said Thompson, the school’s assistant principal.

Thompson and Beels are pitching businesses and civic groups to make a $270 donation to pay for a modem connection for the year, for a family who otherwise won’t have it. A hot spot connection for families outside the Comporium service area is $450. The goal is to reach 15 families, five from each grade level.

The first modem came in October. Now, 12 families have them.

Thompson sees the program eventually closing the gap between what students can accomplish with technology provided to them.

“It can really put a wedge between where they are going and where they want to be going,” she said of offline homes, particularly with school projects where some students may bring in iMovie or similar video presentations. “They’re not coming in with a posterboard when everybody else is coming in with this great 21st-century technology.”

By working with Comporium, the school created safeguards for students. The same site restrictions at school apply at home, and only district-issued technology can access the modems.

“We are providing the most safe Internet available,” Thompson said.

Because of the district-wide focus on technology – elementary and middle school students have iPads, while high school students have MacBooks – the Oakridge initiative is connecting more than its own students. It helps siblings. Of the dozen modems so far, 25 total students are now able to get online.

“It’s more than just the students at Oakridge,” Thompson said.

Local groups are seeing the potential. Supporters so far include an orthodontist and chocolate company, a bank and a restaurant, a car dealer, T-shirt maker and local law enforcement.

The River Hills Lions Club recently donated $540 and likely will add the initiative to its upcoming list of supported charities. The club has long been a supporter of school initiatives, from reading with students to vision testing.

“This donation is in support of the challenge with respect to youth in our community, which hopefully will inspire the next generation of service-oriented volunteers,” said club treasurer Susan Thomas.

The program is having unintended consequences, in a good way. In-home visits are planned to explain how it works, opening the door for school leaders to meet with families.

“It’s building relationships with families,” Thompson said. “It’s helping families become involved in their students’ education.”

The school held a bonfire fundraiser. Students will meet marketing staff at Carowinds to learn how technology is used there. At a May luncheon, students will show a video to donors showing the difference technology is making in their work.

With about 1,000 students in three grades, Oakridge has a steadily growing population of students who could use help from the Internet initiative. While the first-year goal is 15 families, more can benefit from the program. The momentum is encouraging, Thompson said.

As more partnerships form, she envisions a time when little separates what students can work on at home and bring to school.

“We want the students to see what they are capable of doing,” Thompson said.

John Marks: 803-831-8166