Fond du Lac Ojibwe School brings culture, education to life through broadband access

Charles Hilliard teaches students how to create an app.

Posted in Broadband, Grants

Picture this: You are standing at the front of a classroom, laser pointer in hand, ready to launch into a stimulating discussion. You click the link on your laptop to cue the thought-provoking video that is going to get students’ minds turning when…nothing happens. You wait. Wait some more. Sigh, then give up and go to Plan B.

This was the reality for too many teachers at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School. Even though the school installed wireless access points four or five years ago, they were unreliable and close to obsolete.

“Classroom needs are always changing – day to day, hour to hour,” said Technology Coordinator Charles Hilliard. “We couldn’t shift things on the fly because our wireless was unreliable. We couldn’t trust it so we didn’t use it.”

Instead, students were restricted to using the few desktop stations in each classroom. This was a major hurdle for students active on PLATO, an online learning program offered to students that demonstrate success in alternative learning environments.

“Not everyone learns the same,” said Hilliard. “We need to meet students where they are at. For us to do that, it takes dependable wireless.”

Knowing that they had to invest in longer-term technology solutions, leaders at the Fond du Lac School applied for Blandin Foundation broadband funding in 2014. With a $10,000 Broadband Innovation Grant they installed new wireless infrastructure that now provides reliable coverage in 95 percent of the school.

“The wireless project allowed us to pull traditional student work stations out of the classroom, saving us a lot of money previously needed for desktop maintenance,” said Grants and Accountability Manager Dan Anderson. “The tablets are virtually maintenance-free.”

With reliable Internet access, the school is moving towards a 1-to-1 iPad initiative so all students can tap into the power of the web and what it means for participating in a 21st century education.

“Every student has the ability to bring their education to life using the tool they have in their own hands, said Hilliard.

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Fond du Lac students utilize their strong wireless connection to do homework.

Often times, these tools are used to deepen students’ understanding of their rich culture. For example, 8th graders produce cultural video blogs and last year, the school held an App Camp where students created applications that celebrated Ojibwe culture, specifically bead work, seasons, dances, and more (see video).

Hilliard says that the wireless project has not only benefited the school but the entire reservation.

“We serve as a good working example,” he said. “If other tribal departments need to know how a certain approach or technology can work, they come to the school.”

This has come in handy as the reservation continues to make tremendous strides to increase broadband access and use for all who live there.

“We’re showing, in many ways, that there’s value in having [broadband] in our community,” said Hilliard. “Whether that be cultural, economic, certainly educational, there’s value.”

For teachers, value comes packaged in a blue clickable link. Click on, teachers, click on!

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