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updated: 8/2/2013 4:40 PM

Dist. 220 students to get laptops, free Internet

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Barrington Unit District 220's mission is to prepare its students for the future -- and it doesn't want any of their families' present-day financial difficulties to stand in the way of that goal.

Not only will every middle school student receive his or her own netbook computer at the start of the school year, but at some point in the coming months, district officials hope to be able to provide free Internet service to up to 700 of the district's families.

Though the middle school computers have been budgeted for some time, the possibility of free Internet service for those low-income families who qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program is a recent, multiple-step development.

"There are a lot of moving parts, but it looks like a certainty that it's going to move forward," District 220 spokesman Jeff Arnett said.

The effort, dubbed Project Horsepower, is an innovative collaboration between the school district, Comcast and the Barrington Area Development Council.

Achievement of its goal would make it the first program of its kind in the United States, Arnett said.

A Comcast executive who lives in the district was the point person for this outgrowth of the Comcast Internet Essentials program for low-income households, he said.

Comcast's part of the collaboration would be to provide wireless modems to the district's qualifying families -- allowing them access to Internet service for the reduced rate of $9.95 per month. The goal is to achieve this sometime in October -- approximately six weeks into the school year.

The Barrington Area Development Council would like to find funding to cover even these monthly costs for families truly in need, Arnett said. The hope this can happen at some later time during the school year -- possibly as early as the winter.

District 220 has long recognized that familiarity with technology is essential to its student's postgraduate lives. But Project Horsepower takes that a step further by realizing that access to hardware without access at home to the Internet would be of limited use to students, Arnett said.

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