High-speed Internet access isn’t available in their neighborhood in the Forest Ridge subdivision. The Prestons also can’t access the Internet with a cell phone signal.
“I just happen to live in one of these spots where it’s completely dead,” Preston said.
The couple, a nurse and an educator, rely on Internet they receive through satellite signals, which is slow, like the dial-up connections over telephone lines commonly used in the 1990s. Like the Prestons, many Pleasant Valley-area residents don’t have access to high-speed Internet, but that is soon to change.
This fall, M2 Connections (written as "M-squared"), a division of an Anniston company called JKM Consulting, will install a fiber-optic network at the Pleasant Valley schools. It will also install a tower near Pleasant Valley High School’s football practice field to provide wireless Internet access to area residents. The change could give residents online opportunities they’ve never had before, especially when it comes to education.
“It’s going to make it much better for them,” Preston said. “They can do research at home.”
The new service will enable the high school to take part in a budding technology program called “Bring Your Own Device.” Under the program, piloted at Pleasant Valley Middle School last year, teachers encourage students to bring smart phones, tablets, laptops and e-readers to class for learning.
“That is what their college education is starting to look like. K-12 has to make that shift,” said Angie Kelley, a White Plains Middle teacher. “Hardly anyone walks around without the power of the computer in their hand.”
M2 Connections will supply Pleasant Valley High School teachers with tablet computers because the school is allowing the company to place its collapsible tower near the practice field.
Preston said he and his neighbors are looking forward to having high-speed Internet access. Not only will children have access to greater learning opportunities, adults like Preston will be able to pay bills and take continuing education courses online.
JKM Consulting used “Project BEAR” — Broadband for East Alabama Region — to install a 176-mile fiber network in the Alabama counties of Calhoun, Talladega, Clay and Randolph. Through BEAR the company is providing many rural communities with high-speed access. Until now, those communities have relied on outdated technology to provide internet service.
JKM Consulting received $6.2 million from the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to develop BEAR.
Without wireless Internet access, teachers have had to schedule time in computer labs to give an entire class one-on-one Internet use. That means students can access the Internet at school only once or twice per week and on a limited basis.
With the mobile devices in the classroom, teachers can ask students to do in-class Internet research on-the-spot, providing more time for such research and ultimately producing college-and career-ready students.
Kelley has taken a leadership role in piloting the program in her community. She spent Thursday morning training high school teachers about the county schools’ bring-your-own-device program and in the afternoon showed teachers how to build school websites that are compatible with smart phones and tablets.
Kelley said the program is changing the way students have been taught for generations.
“I feel like that’s began to pick up in the past couple of years,” Kelley said. “As teachers we have to look for more ways to instruct that way.”
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_star.