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With 10 Gig internet from RTC Networks, New Town Public School District is transforming the way that students learn.

Students in New Town, North Dakota, will soon be able to embark on once-in-a-lifetime adventures—witnessing the legendary artworks of the Louvre, climbing the steps of the Great Wall of China, diving beneath the ocean’s surface to explore the Great Barrier Reef—without ever leaving their classroom.

It isn’t teleportation. These excursions will take place in the district’s new state-of-the-art virtual reality lab, where students can don futuristic VR headsets and be instantly transported thousands of miles away. Rather than simply reading about a museum, monument, or natural wonder in a textbook, students can immerse themselves in these new worlds—improving interest, understanding, and recall.

Virtual field trips are a revolutionary and relatively affordable way to engage students in their schoolwork, and they are just one way that New Town teachers will use new 10 Gig internet from RTC Networks to eliminate barriers and redefine education.

“Going forward, the possibilities are endless,” said district Technology Coordinator Ian Ellsworth. “We’re going to have 21 VR headsets. So I could have 21 children sitting there being taken through museums and having a live person at the other end, discussing everything with them. And 10 Gig will make that possible.”

A “Logistical and Technical Nightmare”

New Town Public Schools is a district of just 950 students, located on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota. And this fall, they will become the first district in the state and among the first in the nation with access to 10 Gig internet. 

The need for high-speed internet district-wide came into stark relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like districts across the country, New Town transitioned to distance learning in March 2020 to prevent the spread of the virus. And like every other district, New Town faced challenges along the way. 

“To start with, we had the teachers in the school building, and only having a one gig connection into the building and everybody being online at the same time brought our bandwidth down greatly,” Ellsworth said. “It was a logistical and technical nightmare.”

So when RTC Networks announced the launch of 10 Gig service in 2021, Ellsworth immediately approached Superintendent Beth Zietz.

“I told her, ‘We don’t know how long this at-home learning is going to last. We need to build our infrastructure up, and RTC is offering 10 Gig. And I think it’s something we should do,’” Ellsworth said. 

She was quickly convinced. For Zietz, bringing 10 Gig to New Town is about more than offering the latest-and-greatest in classroom technology. It is about ensuring that all of their students have access to the same learning opportunities.

Redefining Education

10 Gig will help eliminate barriers to learning by allowing New Town teachers to place technology in the hands of every student. Beginning this fall, New Town Public Schools will implement a “One-to-One Plus” computing program, in which every student will be assigned a MacBook Air to use throughout the school day. The program will be piloted in the middle school this year, and if successful, extend to the high school and elementary school in the coming years.

In districts across the country, equipping students with their own computers has been shown to increase student participation and collaboration, empower students to take control of their own learning, and prepare them for the future beyond the classroom. New Town Public Schools is taking the program one step further to ensure that both students and staff are able to make the most of their revolutionary new speeds.

“The ‘Plus’ is really important because it includes teacher training and making sure that our staff are truly prepared to use the internet in a powerful way,” Zietz said. “We’re implementing a technology coach, so our teachers who maybe are still getting their internet feet underneath them have someone to go to and to support and to coach them with questions.”

This training will allow teachers to incorporate the SAMR model, which lays out four tiers of online learning: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. At the Substitution tier, students can utilize some of the most basic forms of classroom technology, like writing a paper in a Word document rather than with a pen and paper. By the fourth tier, Redefinition, learning is transformed by activities that were previously thought impossible in the classroom.

“Our students are so different than what they were 20 years ago. Their minds are actually wired differently as they’ve grown up in the digital age,” Zietz said. “Many of them are already past the Substitution stage. That isn’t new to them. They want to dig in, they want to create, they want to share with the world the things that they’re doing. And having 10 Gig coming into our school is going to provide that next step for our students.”

Virtual field trips are just the beginning. At the Redefinition level, students can also share their ideas by publishing papers online or gain global perspectives by video chatting with students on the other side of the world.

“They can literally, in 30 seconds, be online with a student in Africa discussing the Serengeti,” Ellsworth said. “With the current bandwidth that we have, that would not be possible. But with RTC supplying 10 Gigs, literally for the children, the world is going to be their oyster.”

10 Gig will make it possible for New Town students and teachers to access classroom technologies like these all at the same time, without disruptions to their connection. Even more importantly, it will allow the district to address the needs of the whole child, including mental health services—another need that came to the forefront amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard to learn if there’s a lot of other things going on in your life that are running through your brain,” Zietz said. “In New Town, North Dakota, our nearest mental health services are at least an hour away if not further. And so having this high-speed internet will also allow us to provide additional virtual services for our students, so that they can see licensed professionals to assist them with mental health issues.”

Preparing for the Future

For New Town Public Schools, bringing 10 Gig to their students isn’t just about meeting the needs of today; it’s about anticipating the needs of the future.

“New Town has always been a progressive district and we want to be prepared for the future,” Zietz said. “When everyone else is clamoring for 10 Gig, we will already have it. And we will be using it to really increase student learning and student engagement.”

New classroom technologies will continue to emerge, and someday—as much as Beth and Ian hate to admit it—another emergency may force schools into lockdown. No matter what happens, with 10 Gig from RTC Networks, New Town Public Schools will be ready.

“It absolutely makes us really proud that we’re going to be the first people to do this.  We’re a small town showing the big schools how it should be done. And we could not do that without RTC, ” Ellsworth said. “RTC are not just our suppliers, they’re our partners in this. And without them, there is no way that we could move forward.”

With 10 Gig, the possibilities are endless. Learn more and sign up today at rtc.coop/internet to transform the way you live, work, and learn.