Rural school gains internet access after NBC Montana report

by NBC Montana, Maritsa Georgiou

We’re following up after we first told you about a remote school that couldn’t connect to the internet in March. Once NBC Montana told lawmakers and our story aired things started to change.

Kids at Woodman School near Lolo have one day of school left before summer break, but it’s not just vacation that has them excited.

“Next school year is going to be phenomenal because of the plans we can make,” said lead teacher Kelly Hoover.

After years of waiting they finally have internet access.

“It’s made a really big difference to all of us,” one student told us.

We went to Woodman School in March after hearing they had virtually no internet. The school was waiting for a high-speed fiber-optic line from CenturyLink, but it got stalled in contract negotiations with the FCC.

“Everybody was so excited,” Hoover said. “And we were totally let down. We didn’t get our internet. It was horrible.”

The school’s internet speed ran so slow they couldn’t get a computer online in the hour we spent there in March.

Today it’s a much different classroom, because people saw our original story and called the school.

“There’s a gentleman in Kalispell whose daughter teaches at a small school. When he saw your story on the news he called right away offering to help,” Hoover said.

About a month ago the school signed a contract with Hughes Net, a satellite-based internet company. They’re now running on about 25 megabits per second, still a quarter of what they would be with CenturyLink, but enough that all of their students can get online at the same time.

“The math one’s really helped me, because I didn’t think I could do that much math before,” said student Olivia Hanson.

Woodman used to bus students to Lolo for standardized testing online. Now they can do it in their own school, and they’re seeing huge results.

“Really, really dramatically,” Hoover said. “We’ve got one kid that was really struggling in math, and I teach second and third grades, and he tested out of the fourth grade level. A lot of that is just having the time and setup and being able to take the test on his terms. Across the board, almost every student has improved dramatically.”

NBC Montana called Sen. Jon Tester’s office in March about the school. He and Gov. Steve Bullock wrote the FCC urging them to do something.

“It is the 21st century, and every Montana student needs access to the internet,” Tester told us Thursday. “I’m happy with the temporary solution that’s happened at Woodman, but, quite frankly, we need to make sure that we have a permanent solution to this problem at Woodman School. Our students deserve it.”

And while the kids are still waiting for a fiber-optic line, they’re not waiting for browsers to load anymore.

“Thank you very much for being here, doing this story, making a couple of phone calls with us to get things moving and then following up to see where we’re at. You can tell it’s just night and day. I’m a really happy guy right now. Thank you,” Hoover said.