When Tenkiller Public Schools requested bids for a 100Mbps circuit in 2016, OneNet knew it would be a challenge to reach the school with a fiber circuit, because there was a mountainous area standing in the way. OneNet took on the challenge and secured a last-mile provider to construct the circuit. Construction took three years, and many drilling bits were broken along the way, but the 100Mbps circuit became operational in June 2019. Since then the school has upgraded their circuit to 200Mbps.
“We received a bid from OneNet through E-Rate, then began talking with representatives. Everyone was very helpful, kind, and always answered our questions in a timely manner,” explained Sharon Ballew, the school’s federal programs director. “OneNet was able to get fiber to our school, which is in the middle of nowhere, that no one else had been able to do. It took some time, but OneNet was able to get it done.”
Welling, Oklahoma, is home to Tenkiller Public Schools, located in Cherokee County within a close-knit community. The town is known for Lake Tenkiller and has a population of around 1,000. Like many other rural communities, broadband access has been a challenge.
Geographic terrain can often make delivering high-speed internet services to rural areas difficult. Hills mountains, lakes, rivers and forests can all create physical barriers to delivering fiber-based internet.
“Natural barriers often contribute to the digital divide within rural communities, making it difficult to deliver services to schools, hospitals, municipal agencies and other organizations that provide critical services to smaller communities,” said Randy Crosby, OneNet’s director of network infrastructure. “We were glad we found a solution for Tenkiller Public Schools.”
OneNet helps Tenkiller Public Schools tackle connectivity issues by providing a more stable and reliable service connection. When COVID disrupted education in 2020, it was difficult for the school to provide students the technology needed to learn from home. Ballew said the school faced two specific hurdles when the pandemic began.
“We had two challenges…bandwidth and money for technology! When the pandemic hit, we did not have the technology needed to provide all of our students with devices. We also did not have the bandwidth to be able to do 1:1,” Ballew said.
Evolving through COVID, the school was able to provide distance learning and virtual learning by providing packets for learning at home and connecting with the students. They did this through wellness checks and meal deliveries. When the school district was able to purchase more devices for students’ usage, they began to explore the virtual platforms more with their students.
Since then the school has been able to implement 1:1 devices. They have continued using this initiative for students learning virtually, as well as within the classrooms.
“Technology is a supplemental resource that helps support academic learning for all our students. It also provides students with technology skills they need, or will need, in life,” Ballew said.
Tenkiller Public Schools aims to provide up-to-date technologies for students and staff and increased their bandwidth as they acquired new technologies. Adding more devices in the classroom for students and staff initially slowed their service down, so they upgraded their bandwidth to 200Mbps in order to support 1:1 devices in the classroom and service for other activities throughout the school, as well.
Ballew pointed out that a quality internet connection is crucial in smaller communities, because it allows students to learn and grow academically and sharpen their technological skills. Since Welling is a rural community, many families don’t have internet access in their homes, so the ability for students to connect at school is very important.
“OneNet is Oklahoma’s partner in education,” said Crosby. “With the pandemic, connectivity is more vital than ever for learning at all levels. OneNet is here to support those connections for rural schools like Tenkiller.”
Ballew appreciates her school’s partnership with the OneNet team.
“Working with OneNet has been a great experience. Everyone we’ve ever talked with has been very helpful and always kind. If that person couldn’t help, they made sure to put us in contact with someone who could help,” Ballew said.
Photos courtesy of Tenkiller Public Schools
Story by Dominique Brignac, Strategic Communications Intern, Fall & Spring 2021