The Northern Michigan JournalPREVIOUSNEXT

by Andrew L. McFarlane

Dateline: April 19, 1997
Location: Public Schools across the nation
NetDay is...
"..a grass-roots volunteer effort to wire schools so they can network their computers and connect them to the Internet. Labor and materials are provided by volunteers and support from companies, unions, parents, teachers, students and school employees."

...a truly grandiose dream which just might stand a chance of becoming a reality.

The dream part is easy to grasp. Point. Click. Students at every school in the country, with the aid of computers and the wonders of the Internet, are able to access the wealth of the worlds information, no longer limited by what the writers of their textbooks chose to put it in them, when they were written or how many books their school library has.

Netday Michigan
An interview with state coordinator John Flynn.

1) Why did you decide to become the state coordinator for NetDay Michigan?

This summer I was doing some research for the Senator that I work for, Gary Peters. The research was on an economic agenda for the state and part of it called for an education technology improvement bill. While I was doing that specific data collection I came across an article that introduced the program called NetDay. In the article their was a passage that read something like "all but five states in the US are actively pursuing NetDay activities and the five states that are not (of which Michigan was one) have functionally decided to secede from the 21st century" When I read that I couldn't take it: we as a state are a major manufacturer from cars to chemicals to software. For the rest of the US or even for this one author to think that we don't care about our students' education was unthinkable to me. So that day, it was mid-October, I called the national group and asked them how I could help. they informed me that there was no one signed on as a coordinator in this state so I offered my services. Gary (my boss) has been very active in helping me coordinate and sponsor events. Primarily, the article saying that we as a state are leading the charge backwards and avoiding the 21st century was the impetus for my signing on.

2) What's on tap for Michigan for April 19th?

Well, we have been slowly but surely gaining support from companies. We have had some very good initial support form a company in Madison Heights called Telecom Technicians Inc. and they have helped do the training for wiring and offered some technical support and labor. ON the 19th I expect an event in Kalamazoo, Oak Park, Pontiac and Detroit in the southern part of the state. In the northern part of the state we have seen interest in East Jordan and Bay City and in the Upper Peninsula in Marquette. The beauty of NetDay is that it has a very devout group of vendors that give schools that are ready for an event a wholesale discount on parts called "kits". So NetDay events can happen whenever a school is ready. I predict that NetDay will be an ongoing project in the state of Michigan for some time.

3) All right, how about a pep talk, John?

For the readers in the Northern part of the state I invite you to contact me if your schools are interested or ready to do some wiring. I have a video and a manual that I can provide for you to help you get started and I will provide whatever services I can to you and you school, including some funding if you are unable to raise the requisite $700 it takes to get the "kits" I mentioned earlier.

NetDay is a simple project that any group of 10 to 15 concerned parents, business people and community members can pull off on any Saturday of the year. I will aide any school that needs help finding a vendor for parts, raising money, or collecting volunteers in any way I can. NetDay Michigan is not run out of my office--it is run from your school and your child's classroom. NetDay is not a single person's posession but an event for the whole community to own and be proud of. It is helping our kids enter the information age with confidence and competence.
One of the two "founders" of Netday is John Gage, an old school free speech and anti-war agitator who has "made good" as the Chief Science Officer for Sun Microsystems. Gage purportedly was struck by the Netday idea when in a meeting of the Federal Networking Advisory Commission in April of 1995. The substance of the meeting dealt with vanishing educational funding and the vanishing chances for getting money to network schools. Gage fiddled with some numbers, thought about it terms of what the actual wire costs, and figured that five classrooms and a lab could be wired for $500, a far cry from the conventionally wise figure of $10,000.

Gage's original concept has been refined by a dedicated group and countless volunteers. Netday National has been able to use the Web to enlist volunteers at the state level. Wiring kits are made available through Netday National to the state Netday organizations and volunteers who want to wire their school. and the national organization is committed to delivering these kits for $500 or less.

The strategy, with the help of heavy hitting corporate sponsors like Microsoft, MCI, Cisco, Sun and others, big name support,and a host of technical and unskilled volunteers has worked so far. However, the sheer size and complexity of the task make Netday's ultimate goal: five classrooms and a computer lab in every school in the nation wired to each other and the Internet; anything but certain. The technical problems and many of the financial ones have been solved. What remains to be made is the human connection...

"NetDay is not just about making the wire connections that make network and Internet access a reality. We are making and strengthening the connections between people, both inside and outside the classroom, who share a common goal: to provide the best possible education for our children."
-Netday co-founder Michael Kaufman of PBS

Otter Creek Music of Suttons Bay--on and offline, the best source for all your music
Links From This Article
NetDay Michigan Homepage E-Mail John Flynn
NetDay National Homepage Detroit Schools NetDay Page

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