Stretched along and bordering the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota is the Meade School District, the largest school district in the state, geographically speaking. Spread out over 3,000-plus miles, a district that is this remote has had its fair share of connectivity challenges. Jeff Ward, the district's curriculum and technology director, said that its recent partnership with Midco—which provides internet, phone and cable TV services for communities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas—has helped level the playing field for their schools. Students now enjoy opportunities to connect virtually with other classrooms, teachers and speakers and to access a vast array of educational resources available online.
The largest city in the district is Sturgis, where Midco has provided connectivity to students for several years now. Midco has expanded into even more rural and remote regions of its service area in the past year, and the Meade School District has reaped the benefits.
Midco began connecting the school district with high-speed internet and SIP phone service in 2017, which has not only helped kids and teachers take advantage of online learning, but has also allowed for easy voice or video communication and a reduction in costs, critical for most school districts and their budgets.
"Our rural schools sometimes get forgotten. There aren't as many students out there, but they're just as important," said Ward. "And the teachers that are out there deserve to be able to put those tools in front of the students and be able to have that access, which means that we have to have access to the service before we can provide that to our students in our rural schools."
A few challenges came up along the way that most urban areas don’t have to contend with when getting their connectivity needs met. For example, the towns have different rate centers for FCC regulations, and the locations are spread out, which made logistics more difficult. But Midco gave itself enough time during the winter of 2016-2017 to build out the network and address these issues, and the results pretty much speak for themselves.
"There's a lot of online testing that we do now. And along with that, you can get to the Smithsonian and look at primary artifacts—things that we just couldn't do before technology. We still believe in direct instruction, but it sure opens a lot more opportunities with the devices," said Ward. The district can also complete clear phone calls now and easily transfer between sites, a huge step up from before.
"As we put more devices in our district, and demands for connectivity increase, Midco's been a good partner for that—to situate us so that we can move forward and be successful in the implementation of those devices. And hopefully, put us out in front as a leader in our area as a school district," said Ward.