$255K grant brings high-speed Internet to classrooms in 3 Portland schools

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PORTLAND — King Middle School and Riverton and Presumpscot elementary schools will be equipped with wireless, high-speed Internet access thanks to a $255,000 federal grant.

In addition to wireless Internet, each classroom will also be equipped with voice-over-Internet protocol equipment, which will allow teachers and students to make local, long-distance and international calls online, rather than via traditional land lines.

The grant requires a local match of $56,000.

It’s the second consecutive year Portland schools have received a grant through the federal E-Rate program, which is funded through a surcharge on phone bills and redistributed to schools in high-poverty areas.

Last year’s grant funded similar upgrades at Reiche and East End elementary schools, along with the West School for special-needs students.

Maine’s E-Rate program already pays for Internet access at Peaks and Cliff island schools.

“In two years, we have completed technology upgrades at more than half of Portland public schools with the help of state and federal resources,” school technology coordinator Joseph Makley said in a press release. “This is part of a continuing effort to ensure that all students are prepared for today’s technology immersed world.”

Computers are becoming a staple in most classrooms due to a statewide effort to give high school and middle school students laptop computers. Meanwhile, some districts, like Portland, are expanding that effort to elementary schools.

Director of Curriculum Development Thomas LaFavore said the increased availability of classroom technology allows the students to get real-time information, rather than relying on expensive and often out-of-date text books.

“Where before we were highly dependent on text books to give us the information, we now have a wealth of information, including primary sources from people in different parts of the country and different parts of the world,” LaFavore said.

Computer network cables are also scheduled to be installed at Deering and Portland high schools this summer. The $165,000 project is being funded through the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Meanwhile, the district has requested an additional $500,000 in next year’s CIP budget to upgrade networks, wireless service and other equipment at the seven remaining buildings: Longfellow, Lyseth, Hall, Peak’s Island, Lyman Moore and Lincoln schools, and the building shared by Casco Bay High School and the Portland Arts and Technology High School. 

“When all of these upgrades are completed, we will have a system in place that should meet our technology needs for the next 10 years,” Makley said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net