NetDay Comes to the Netplex

A regional initiative to connect schools to the Internet echoes the California effort

The Washington area is about to match Silicon Valley in yet another technology endeavor: wiring kindergarten through 12th grade public schools for Internet use.

NetDay 96 is a national effort to hook up five classrooms and a library in every public school in the country so kids can go on-line to research term papers and communicate with children in other countries. California jump-started the mission in March by recruiting 50,000 volunteers who wired 3,500 schools in one day and by signing up powerful sponsors including MCI, Cisco and America Online.

A national "how-to" conference was held in June in Washington to teach people how to organize efforts and how to actually wire schools.

Now, NetDay East, a coalition of Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia schools and organizers, is planning to wire Netplex schools. Leaders say they will connect 6,000 schools during the first phase of the project in October. Two other phases for schools not ready in October are planned for February and March. Nationally, 210,000 volunteers are expected to link schools to the Internet in the fall.

In this technology-rich area, the idea of improving education by wiring schools is being met with great enthusiasm. "We're extremely lucky to have such a powerful audience here," said Teresa Willyard, chair of NetDay East, who is also a technical Internet support liaison at Boeing Information Services, Vienna, Va. "On a local level, the event is gaining energy and synergy."

NetDay East organizers are now meeting with federal agencies, technology companies and schools to create support for the project. "Our focus is to encourage them that this is a doable thing," Willyard said.

No one group is totally responsible for the effort, which may take place at different times for the two states and the District of Columbia. Mark Root, manager of information services for the Council of the Great City Schools, Washington, said he expects volunteers to wire the district's public schools each of the four Saturdays in October. Root's organization represents all the public school districts in the country. Tech Corps-DC, a non-profit organization, is also working on the project. The team has 300 volunteers.

Root said NetDay organizers have the philosophy that teaching a person to fish is better than feeding him. Each of the projects is designed to give schools the help they need to get started, then let them continue on their own. "[School representatives] are going to be the ones who will organize and keep alive the project once we are finished," said Root.

So far, he said, Boeing and Bell Atlantic have been great area high-tech supporters. Bell Atlantic is the only company yet to give a cash donation to NetDay East -- $25,000. Root said Bell Atlantic might see this as an opportunity to provide more phone lines in schools, but he also said the telco was excited about the project and planned to send employees to wiring projects.

Courtney Bulger, manager of small business at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce in Virginia, has taken on the cause for her area. The chamber plans to meet with the school system this summer, but Bulger predicts they won't be ready in October. But that's OK, she said, because they are learning lessons from California. "If we do it too fast it won't be as effective," said Bulger. Fairfax also plans to form an alliance with the Virginia parent-teacher associations and will meet with the National Economic Council to get federal employees involved.

Different school systems, of course, have different needs. Fairfax is one of the largest in the country, for example, but many of the upper-level schools are already wired.

One of Bulger's goals is to get the Fairfax high-tech community motivated for NetDay. The chamber itself has 2,000 members, of which about 300 are technology companies. In addition, the chamber's board is made up of high-tech leaders. Even better, she added, "The business leaders are parents, too." Many of those parents want their children to have the same access to computers at school as they do at home.

Maryland is also aided by Tech Corps and plans a partnership with the Points of Light Foundation, a non-profit organization that aids many different volunteer efforts. Maryland organizers are working with Gov. Parris Glendening's chief of staff, Major Riddick, as well as with Barbara Reeves, director of instructional technology for the Maryland Department of Education.

One way NetDay organizers are getting the word out is through information-packed World Wide Web sites. The nationwide site can be found at The eastern contingent has set up its own site at http://cgcs/org.netday-east/. "We realize we have a broad community to reach," said Willyard. Sponsors, schools and volunteers can sign up directly on the sites.

The main Web site will this month launch NetDay News, which will offer updated information on the project. By fall, site developers expect to be receiving more than a million hits a day on the site.

Another way to encourage volunteers and promote the site is to gather statements from individual supporters. Willyard noted that the group also has access to prominent politicians. "We keep it fresh in their minds," said Willyard.

In July, Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va., issued an endorsement of NetDay East. "Simply put, the student with access will be at a distinct advantage and better prepared for future employment, and those without access are likely to be left by the wayside. We cannot afford to let our school systems slip behind those of our leading competitors when the technology that we created is at our fingertips," Robb said.

The national initiative received a plug in January from President Bill Clinton, who sent a letter to potential sponsors. "NetDay is a key element of our broad national strategy for joining American advances in technology with the needs of our schools and children," Clinton said. In March, the president and Vice President Al Gore made an appearance and pulled some wire at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord, Calif.

Willyard admits that much of the project is idealistic, but also said it's that kind of optimism that will get the job done. "You always shoot for the stars and hope to reach the moon," she said.

NetDay Facts

- There are approximately 107,000 primary and

secondary schools in the United States with more

than 55 million students.

- About 2,700 of those schools currently use the Internet.

- Wiring kits cost about $300.

- Wiring five classrooms and a library uses 2,000 feet of

Category 5 wire. To wire an entire average-sized school

would take 6,000 feet of wire.

- NetDay 96's target is to wire 20 percent of all U.S.

primary and secondary schools or 21,000 institutions.

- NetDay in California wired 3,500 schools and had

50,000 volunteers.

- National NetDay 96, scheduled for the four Saturdays

in October, expects 210,000 volunteers.

Source: NetDay 96

Links to Education Resources on the Internet

NetDay 96 Sites

NetDay 96 nationwide: http://www/


New York City:

New York State (except NYC):

North Carolina:





Other Sites

Children's Literature Web Guide:

Center for Library Initiatives:

University of Michigan Education:

Smithsonian Institution:

Exploratorium Home Page:

Hillside Elementary School (one of the first schools on the Web

Students make own home pages):

Educational Software Institute:

K-12 Network Technology Planning Guide:

MathMagic Internet:

School and Community Networking Resources:

Teacher Talk:

Welcome K-12 (for those just starting to use the Internet):

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