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Six-hundred Santa Maria-Bonita students received mobile internet access and take-home Chromebooks (or iPads) this month as part of a pilot program to provide internet-ready devices for students and their families.

Administrators hope the new initiative, dubbed SMBSD Connected, will expand access to educational resources through up-to-date internet access for some of the district's high-needs student population. Twenty classrooms across 15 district schools were chosen to participate in the program.

"The average student in our district does not have access to the internet," said Brian Rieke, the district's Informational Technology coordinator and one of the program leads. Funding for the program was made available by the state via the district's Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which provided approximately $820,000 to purchase technology for student use.

"The majority of families who have access to the internet comes from a cell phone, which is not a good device for students to be doing homework on or exploring curricular ideas," he said. "We're seeing a lot of families where this is their first computer device and may be the first access to internet in their home outside of a mobile device."

Modeled after similar programs at other school districts (Guadalupe Union introduced their program last Fall), Rieke says the devices are intended to function as an extension of their classroom education. Students have had classroom access to Chromebooks for several years, but now will be able to supplement their learning with a digital component.

"The tricky part with traditional homework is that, for it to be effective, it has to be at the correct level for the students," he said. "Some of these online programs assess the student and provide them the material at a level they need it at."

Meeting with parents from Tunnell and Taylor elementary schools on Monday night, Rieke and Terie Cota, one of the district teachers helping implement the program, gave parents participating in the pilot an overview of the program. The devices will be treated similar to textbooks, Cota said, with students and their families liable for their individual devices.

Internet access will be capped daily and shut off between 8 or 10 p.m. each night, Cota said, and the devices will be password protected to prevent unauthorized access. Like classroom computers, traffic will be filtered and monitored by the district.

"Parents are concerned and want to make sure their children are safe," Cota said, assuring parents that school principals will be notified if students attempt to bypass or access restricted content. "Even though they're at home, it's just like their classroom computers — not much gets through that isn't supposed to get through." 

Though the program is still in its pilot stages, Cota says she has heard positive feedback from participants.

"These parents are truly interested in what their students are doing and grateful for the program," she said. "Students are so proud of being able to show the parents what they're doing."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.