In the pre-Internet age, classrooms could get by with textbooks, chalkboards, and a stockpile of No. 2 pencils. These days, though, to truly prepare students for success in the modern world, in-school Internet access is an absolute must.
To help ensure that South Dakota’s youngest residents are well versed in the language of technology—and thus, better equipped for careers in today’s workforce—Valley Telecommunications is on a mission to establish a fiber connection to every school in its service area. That region includes Valley Telecom’s home base of Herreid as well as Hosmer, Leola, and Ipswich. “Our schools are so important to these rural communities, and so it’s important that they have the best services that are available,” Darin LaCoursiere, the CEO and general manager of Valley Telecommunications, told AberdeenNews.com.
Funding for this ambitious undertaking came in the form of a $19 million USDA Rural Development loan. “Given the isolation of so many of these communities, it’s so important that they be able to have that kind of connection to lots of resources,” Elsie Meeks, the state director of USDA Rural Development, is quoted as saying in the Aberdeen News article. “Whether it’s the best educational resources or medicine or markets—all of that.” According to the Valley Telecommunications website, crews have been hard at work laying fiber lines for the last six years or so, and they hope to complete the project sometime next year.
The initiative also will open up broadband access in residential areas, which, from an educational standpoint, means students will be able to supplement the skills they learn in the classroom with assignments they complete at home. And within classroom walls, students will have virtually boundless opportunities to connect with subject-matter experts around the globe.
Plus, as Leola School District technology coordinator Val Geffre told the Aberdeen News, math and science students—particularly at the junior high and high school levels—will be able to take full advantage of educational tools and resources delivered through devices like laptops and iPads.
While the educational benefits of the new fiber infrastructure are certainly exciting, LaCoursiere pointed out that the network also will improve daily operations for local businesspeople—particularly farmers, who historically have had poor access to Internet services.
So, whether they’re researching the market prices of corn or the fall of the Roman Empire, the people of rural South Dakota now have an unobstructed onramp to the information superhighway—and who knows where it may take them.