Local School Wiring Effort Revamped

Suffering from lack of sponsors and volunteers, NetDay East organizers change plans

Organizers of NetDay East have scaled back plans for the first phase of the grassroots Internet wiring campaign scheduled to kick off next month in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. schools.

Citing the need for more sponsors and volunteers, organizers now plan to wire 100 schools, and the project will run through the end of the 1996-97 academic year. This summer, organizers announced plans to connect 6,000 schools, and the effort was expected to end in early 1997.

"Our focus is going to be on quality rather than quantity as we begin NetDay efforts in this area," said Teresa Willyard, chair of NetDay East.

NetDay East is part of a national volunteer program to provide computer network wiring for all schools. The effort aims to provide wiring hookups to five classrooms in every school and at least one other site, such as a school library or computer lab.

The first NetDay was kicked off in California last March when 50,000 volunteers wired 3,500 schools in a single day. Volunteers and businesses in more than 40 states have been wiring schools this month and plan to do so through October. NetDay efforts are expected to enable school children to use the Internet for research and other learning opportunities.

Willyard, a technical Internet support liaison at Boeing Information Services in Vienna, Va., said it has become more realistic for the NetDay East coalition to hit that target [6,000 schools] over the course of the school year.

"We want to use the month of October to get the project on a solid foundation," Willyard said.

Sponsors are needed to donate money and resources to NetDay East's initial phase, which begins Oct. 5 and ends Oct. 26. Companies willing to donate wiring and light construction equipment, such as drills and ladders, are encouraged to participate.

The NetDay East coalition also is seeking sponsors willing to purchase special school wiring kits that cost $620 to $690. Sponsors are also needed to provide food and other amenities for the volunteers.

Bell Atlantic Corp. is the only corporate sponsor that donated cash to NetDay East as of Sept. 20. The company contributed $25,000. Two individuals also made cash contributions to NetDay East, Willyard said.

More than 600 volunteers had signed up for NetDay East as of Sept. 20, but Willyard said hundreds more are needed for the first phase of the program. She said people can sign up for specific schools short on volunteers through the NetDay East Web site (http://www.cgcs.org/netday-east/).

The e-mail address to register as a volunteer or obtain information about NetDay East is netday-info@cgcs.org. The telephone number is (202) 628 - 8324.

The offices of Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., and John Warner, R-Va., are sponsors of NetDay East. Another sponsor is the campaign office of Mark Warner, a high-tech investor who made his fortune in the cellular business, who is challenging three-term Republican John Warner. These offices are providing volunteers and technical expertise.

Mark Root, manager of information services for the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, said there is a great need for volunteers in the District of Columbia. "We're trying to reach a critical mass of volunteers. Once we get to that point, we'll see significant participation," Root said. The council, which represents all public school districts in the nation, is coordinating Net Day East efforts in Washington, D.C.

By late September, 53 District schools had signed up for Internet wiring along with 26 schools in Maryland and 20 schools in Virginia, according to the NetDay East Web site.

Root said Washington school principals responded enthusiastically to the NetDay East project because District schools are sorely lacking in computer networking infrastructure. "They really want to get wired," Root said.

Root, a member of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Tech Corps, a national non-profit volunteer organization assisting communities with technology-related projects, said that more than 100 volunteers have signed up to participate in NetDay East.

"NetDay has been driving us forward as our focus since we started up nearly a year ago," Root said.

Courtney Bulger, manager of small business at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, said the NetDay East effort in Fairfax County will provide county schools with volunteers to help with tasks beyond wiring schools, as many Fairfax schools are already wired for Internet access.

The county school system and the county businesses are working to develop a detailed plan that will bring volunteers, businesses and schools together to work on tasks such as software and computer memory chip installation, according to Bulger.

In addition to Maryland's participation in NetDay East, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening and state officials are coordinating a NetDay-like event Sept. 27-29 titled Maryland Net Weekend.

The initiative, which originated in the Governor's office, will target 450 schools for Internet wiring by some 4,000 volunteers. Maryland has 1,262 public schools of which 600 are currently wired for Internet access. Humphrey said schools not covered during Maryland Net Weekend will be wired by the end of the year.

Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for Maryland Net Weekend, said corporate contributions for the project exceeded $500,000. The lead private sector partner, AT&T Corp., is donating an additional $330,000 in software, hardware and Internet access time to Baltimore area schools located in the city's empowerment zone, a specially designated economic development area, Humphrey said.

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