As part of the Education Exchange program, NGN met with a group of 13 North Georgia educators to discuss how NGN’s powerful fiber optic network can help alleviate the struggles of rural schools.
The group met at the Blue Ridge Mountain EMC on Dec. 3 to elect an Education Exchange Oversight Committee that will support and guide the program’s efforts. The committee includes White County Schools technical director William Sperin, Mountain Education Charter High School assistant superintendent Larry Shook, and Lumpkin County Schools assistant superintendent Pete Seabolt.
Since 2012, the schools in Union, White, Habersham, Lumpkin and Dawson counties have used NGN’s high-speed fiber optic network to connect in milliseconds to virtually anywhere in the world. Every school has its own gigabit-per-second network with speeds up to 100 times faster than the average broadband connection. “Until we got one gig from NGN, we couldn’t even do online testing,” one educator said.
Separate from the schools’ individual networks, NGN has built a private 20-gig network shared between the school systems, making it possible for schools to have real-time, two-way video communication. “We want the Education Exchange to be an example for the rest of the state,” said Paul Belk, NGN’s President and CEO. “The network creates untold opportunities for distance learning, virtual classrooms, technology-based curriculum, shared personnel, and improved internal operations.”
NGN has partnered with local IT company, Cirrus Networks, to handle network setup and maintenance, so schools are free to use the network without fear of downtime caused by technical difficulties. “If you know the person on the other end of the phone line, that makes a difference,” Belk said.
The Education Exchange aims to do more than just expand technology. Network operators aim to affect student attitudes towards the future.
“The real key to economic development is education,” North Georgia Network CEO Paul Belk said. “NGN believes that we have to give our kids tools, instruments, and skill sets that allow them to see new choices for themselves as future citizens of our community. We can say that we want to attract business, and yes, there’s a place for that. But there’s also a place for creating a type of entrepreneurship within our school systems.”
Education Exchange currently includes Mountain Education Charter High School, and K-12 schools from White, Rabun, Dawson, Union, Towns, Habersham, Hart and Lumpkin counties. College and universities involved in the program include Toccoa Falls, Truit McConnell, NGTC, University of North Georgia and Young Harris College.