Magazine article District Administration

Wireless Communication: Wireless Technologies, Particularly School Networks, Are a Small but Growing Trend in American Schools. and It's Keeping Students and Staff Safer

Magazine article District Administration

Wireless Communication: Wireless Technologies, Particularly School Networks, Are a Small but Growing Trend in American Schools. and It's Keeping Students and Staff Safer

Article excerpt

Drug dealing in American high schools can look as innocent as buying an ice cream cone. And that is exactly what happened in El Paso, Texas, last year.

An ice cream vendor decided to dish out another flavor last year in the student parking lot at Riverside High School in the Ysleta Independent School District, which borders Mexico, and this time it was Ganja ala Mode.

The legitimate ice cream vendor was handing out ice cream cones filled with marijuana to up to a dozen students every other day and administrators finally caught wind of it from an informant.

What made the quick bust possible was a wireless personal digital assistant.

A young, female officer posed as a student buying the super duper cone and with her Palm Pilot handheld at the same time, took photos of the dealer, photos of the van, and a close-up of the license plate, says Ron Livermore, coordinator for instructional technology initiatives for the district, where 88 percent of students are Hispanic and 75 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

"That's hard-core evidence," Livermore says. "It's normally hard to get a security officer and School Resource Officer [SRO] to gather information on the vehicle without him [the offender] catching on to what you're doing."

With the handheld, pictures were instantaneous and sent to the security people at the school, who were able to track down the vendor and his van via the SRO's resources, Livermore says.

The undercover officer also took photos of students buying the special cones. Before 3,000 Palms were put in the hands of administrators and on-campus security guards and SROs last year, students who were suspects for some problem in school would be pulled out of class, brought to the main office and asked questions where administrators would try to "scare" them to get the truth, Livermore says.

Now, the proof is on the Palm. Given that the Palms have all student information including photographs, which schools extract from the student photo ID system; nicknames; and class schedules, the students are dealt with immediately at the scene of the alleged crime.

"We're a very heavy handheld district," Livermore says. "It's a big rumor mill, that's what schools are. Someone heard from someone about what might happen. It's about immediacy. Now you have the immediacy of information. You really make the administrator the information manager. Before, they were bound to an antiquated system. Now they have resources to manage their time and information."

Using wireless technology--as in 802.11 network wireless, or full roaming network, which is embedded in a school buildings ceilings so laptops and handhelds can communicate without wires--and cell phones is still minimal but growing in American schools, according to Darrell Walery, who is a member of the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee and director of technology, Nextel and IP wireless phones for security in District 230 in Overland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb. The IP, or Internet Protocol, connection keeps information in real time because it can connect to a student database, he adds, as opposed to merely using wireless access cards in laptops or handhelds which do not give the most timely information and which can cause tech headaches. Using IP phones in District 230 schools allow administrators or nurses to directly dial 911, saving valuable seconds in case of a medical emergency, Walery explains.

Gangs Wired Shut

Given Ysleta's big gang population, administrators in 11 schools, mainly high schools, now have the luxury of Palm Treo 650s with Bluetooth and infrared wireless transmission, which sync to computers and can connect to printers. The goal is for every teacher to have one. Handhelds are used in the classroom as well as hallways, cafeterias, and sports fields using TruSmart's ScheduleFinder software, which compresses all student information including student attendance, grades, class schedules, discipline reports, nicknames, and photographs. …

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