Jasmine LaVoie, 18, lives at the Hutton Settlement.
Until recently, if the West Valley junior needed to research a project online for school, she would have to go someplace else, or just be patient with the facility’s slow DSL.
“I would sit there and it would just load and load,” she said.
About a year ago, West Valley Superintendent Gene Sementi approached technology director Rod Neumann to see if there was a way they could help the Hutton Settlement with its connection.
Neumann suggested airFiber, a point-to-point radio to send West Valley’s existing signal to the Hutton Settlement.
“It actually seemed easier than I anticipated,” Neumann said.
Paid for by Hutton, the devices cost about $5,000. West Valley employees set up one device on the roof of the high school and aimed it toward the Hutton Settlement 2.5 miles away. At the Hutton Settlement, another device was placed on a pole near the barn.
“We had to have a line of sight,” Neumann said. They lined up the devices so the signal passes directly from one to the other, squeezing in through two trees along the way. Hutton will pay for any data overages the district accrues.
The Hutton Settlement has been working on getting a faster connection since 2002, home administrator Mike Butler said.
Five years ago, the home started an online class pilot program for its children. Campus director David Milliken said they found grants to get MacBooks for the students, but they couldn’t get online.
Often, they had to go to the public library or a local coffeehouse to get their work done.
Butler said they approached many providers and were met with enthusiasm. One of them said they could do it, running cable to them from Upriver Drive to the buildings at a cost of $10,000. Once it became clear that the Internet was an important tool for students, Butler said they decided to try to get a grant to get it done. When the contractors came to assess the situation, however, they learned they needed to upgrade the cable along Upriver and it would cost $40,000 instead.
The Internet partnership isn’t a first the school district and Hutton – a home for children ages 5 to 18 in need of a safe home.
“West Valley has partnered with the Hutton Settlement for years and years and years,” said West Valley spokeswoman Sue Shields. The partnership was a natural one, since students who live at the settlement attend West Valley Schools.
Butler tells a story about the gardens at Hutton supplying vegetables for soup for West Valley school lunches.
“Our kids are your kids,” Milliken said one employee at West Valley told him.
The result has been significantly faster online service for Hutton students. Milliken estimated speeds are about 15 to 20 times faster and said they are still tweaking the system so it runs better.
“Now, it just loads,” LaVoie said. “I think it’s working pretty fast.”