As States Sign On, NetDay Movement Spreads

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In a flurry of people, power tools, and spools of cable, NetDay is storming into public schools this month in more than 30 states.

Hundreds of principals already have welcomed into their schools engineers, technicians, and scores of other volunteers with willing hands if not technical expertise. The goal at each school: by day's end, wire at least five classrooms and the media center to the Internet.

The national movement has grown out of the California-based NetDay96, a one-day event in March that organizers say helped bring advanced communications technology to more than 2,600 schools. ("NetDay, Calif. Effort To Wire Schools, Goes Coast to Coast," Aug. 7, 1996.)

But other features of NetDay have diversified, as it has been adopted by school districts, corporations, and more than two dozen state governments.

Instead of the intensive, one-day event envisioned by its founders, NetDay has become a series of loosely coordinated efforts under a unified theme, bearing such names as ConneCT'96, NY Wired, and North Carolina Netday'96. And some local efforts have been scheduled according to the needs of the schools and their partners.

Maryland had its three-day "Net Weekend" on Sept. 28-30. New York and Connecticut also pre-empted the October national rollout by holding their days last month.

And organizers in a few states, such as Pennsylvania, won't hold a statewide event until March, although individual schools may act sooner.

It is unlikely that the activities will attract the 1 million volunteers that John Gage, one of the co-founders of the California event, predicted last spring. But early returns from some states indicate a good turnout.

$5 Million Saved

David Humphrey, Maryland's Net Weekend spokesman and the spokesman for the state department of general services, said the event drew nearly 8,000 volunteers who helped wire 509 public schools. Their labor, he said, saved the state $5 million.

Kenneth Garrison, the principal of Whetstone Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Md., said 35 volunteers showed up at his school, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening and members of his staff.

"It went very well," Mr. Garrison said. By 8:30 p.m., he said, the team had connected six classrooms at the 565-student school to its media center.

Even though one-third of the school is now wired, Mr. Garrison said, there is only one computer for every two classrooms--a situation he plans to address through a fund-raising campaign sponsored by a local grocery chain.

But the school will also get some help from the NetDay organizers at the state level, Mr. Humphrey added. So far, corporate contributions not only have paid for wiring kits, but will also buy a new computer and a modem at every school in the state.

The American Telephone & Telegraph Co., the New York City-based communications giant that Mr. Humphrey called the state's "lead corporate sponsor," is giving every school 100 hours of Internet service, valued at $400,000.

Other favorable reports came out of Connecticut, which held ConneCT'96 on Sept. 28.

"It went extremely well," said Marianne Nardone, the principal of both Greeneville Elementary School and Greeneville Intermediate School in Norwich.

An electronics company with a branch within walking distance of the intermediate school donated enough materials to wire the school's office and provide two Internet hookups in each of its 10 classrooms.

"We'd sent them a letter asking them to help us with used computers, and the timing was right," Ms. Nardone said. Two parents with professional electrical qualifications and some volunteers from a utility company lent their expertise. "I was holding wires and cleaning up," the principal said.

Yet a few schools in the state were left waiting. At A.I. Prince Regional Vocational School in Hartford and Windsor Locks Middle School in Windsor Locks, scheduling and delivery problems delayed the wiring of classrooms.

On Their Own

Many NetDay organizers praised their state education departments for their help in making NetDay work.

But in Pennsylvania, where NetDay has been postponed until early next year, the department does not support the project, said Sally Bair, a leader of NetDay efforts in the state.

Ms. Bair, the technology coordinator for the North Lebanon school district, said that after a planning session in Washington in June, she wrote to state officials who also attended and the governor's office.

Though her letters weren't answered, she said she had heard informally that state officials perceived NetDay, which has been endorsed by the Clinton administration, as "a re-election activity of the Democratic Party."

Sean Duffy, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania education department, acknowledged that officials perceive NetDay as political, but said that concern was minor. He said NetDay was "a fine endeavor," but that the state was instead emphasizing its own three-year technology initiative.

Ms. Bair said that even with lukewarm support from the state, many schools were mobilizing. "The bottom line is," she said, "this project is going to happen--the way it's building at this particular point."

Vol. 16, Issue 06

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