by John Kline
Think the city could benefit from citywide Wi-Fi access? The eighth-grade New Tech students of Goshen Middle School think so, and they’re seeking community support to try and make the concept a reality.
Guided by GMS eighth-grade New Tech Facilitator Matt Ulfig, a small group of intrepid young New Tech students went before the Goshen School Board Monday evening to present their proposal for citywide Wi-Fi, known affectionately by the group as Wi-Fi the People.
According to Ulfig, the project arose as part of the school’s recently implemented New Tech program, a new school model centered around project-based learning and 1-to-1 technology which allows students to collaborate on meaningful projects that require critical thinking, creativity and communication in order for them to answer challenging questions or solve complex problems.e
“We call it Wi-Fi the People because we were studying the Constitution, constitutional principles, branches of government, etc.,” Ulfig said of the proposal’s origins. “We kicked this off in January. Goshen Mayor (Jeremy) Stutsman had just been elected, and he’d mentioned during his campaign that he’d be interested in looking into putting in citywide Wi-Fi for the city. So we thought, ‘Well, how can we help that to happen, and is this something that we even want?’ So we spent several weeks looking at the benefits, the drawbacks and did a lot of research. And then we looked at the fact that the school board may be open to the possibility of implementing e-learning, or even seriously considering it at this point. We started thinking that there are other school corporations that are doing e-learning, but there’s not really anyone around who’s doing both e-learning and Wi-Fi. So why not Goshen?”
E-learning, Ulfig said, is essentially a program where students can continue their learning at home through the utilization of Wi-Fi access and provided technology, including iPads and laptops, thus avoiding the need for snow days, etc. School corporations, including Warsaw, Penn and Bethany, have e-learning, he said, though they do not currently have access to citywide Wi-Fi — a fact the GMS New Tech class hopes to tap into.
Through their proposal, the students came up with two concepts that if implemented would allow for citywide Wi-Fi access.
One concept, through the company Ubiquiti Networks, would require the purchase of approximately 19 Wi-Fi access points and 56 repeaters to cover the entire city. Total cost for the project is still being researched, though the students indicated that wiring costs would likely fall around $7,000, while the Wi-Fi itself would cost about $5,000 a year.
The second option, through the company Cisco Systems, would require approximately 608 access-point devices distributed throughout the city to complete citywide access. Including the access points, server and installation, full scale city-wide Wi-Fi using the Cisco system would run between $2 and $2.5 million, the students said.
Looking at a potential timeline for implementation, the students indicated that they would hope to see e-learning fully implemented by the 2018-19 school year, availability of 1-to-1 devices for the entire school corporation by the 2019-20 school year, and finally implementation of citywide Wi-Fi by the 2020-21 school year.
“I think the citywide Wi-Fi would really bring the community together,” Ulfig said. “I know that’s one of the goals of Mayor Stutsman. He wants to bring the community together. So what better way to do that, not just in person, but also electronically. Businesses can thrive, schools can thrive, and I just think that access to that would put us on the map and make us stand out and give us something to brag about, something to market. So it’s a win-win.”
Asked about the cost of the project, Ulfig said the group is already in the process of soliciting donations and other funding support from the community, and is hoping to tap into resources such as the Goshen School Board and city of Goshen to help pay for the project.
“I think they’re excited about the prospect of e-learning,” Ulfig said of the school board’s potential interest in the project following Monday’s meeting. “It hasn’t been formally adopted yet, but having that process there and then having the Wi-Fi to allow that e-learning to flourish even more, I’m hoping that generates some interest and I hear back from them very shortly about that.”
Speaking to the city’s support, Ulfig said the group is scheduled to speak during the Goshen City Council’s March 21 meeting to see if the city would be willing to throw some monetary support behind the project.
“That presentation will be a little different, because we’re going to be trying to attract the city, and it’ll take more of a business approach, whereas this was more a student-centered approach for the schools,” Ulfig said.
Beyond the school corporation and the city, Ulfig said the group is just starting the process of seeking the support of local businesses and other area resources to secure funding for the project.
“There would definitely have to be outside funding support,” Ulfig said of the project. “We’ve looked at that, like: Who’s going to pay for this? How are we going to pay for this? Wouldn’t it be great if we could pay for this without raising taxes or minimally raising taxes? And that would have to come from business support, etc. We really haven’t contacted a lot of businesses yet, but the students realize that that’s a step that has to be taken. And we know that going into the City Council meeting, that we’d need more support in order for this to go through, and to start looking at that and developing that. So we’re just getting started.”