Salamanca District uses GIS technology to help connect school families

Posted at 11:39 AM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 11:39:10-04

SALAMANCA, N.Y. (WKBW) — In the age of virtual learning, the Salamanca School District is finding innovative ways to make sure its students have internet access.

According to a release issued by the district on Thursday, Dr. Graham Hayes, a computer science teacher at the high school, started using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology to help deliver internet access to students at home. It's a project that first started in 2019 when Dr. Hayes realized many of his Earth Science students did not have internet access at home.

“Salamanca High School provides a laptop for every student; however, I quickly learned that many students do not take them home,” said Hayes. “When I inquired why, I found that most rural students do not have access to broadband cable at their house so the laptop’s usefulness to students in the home setting was greatly mitigated.”

“Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology works by linking digital map layers (geography) with information from different database tables. The combined data allows questions to be asked of the database and the results are displayed or highlighted on the map,” said Hayes, likening the system to the layers of an onion, in which each layer represents a different data category. “For example, geology, terrain, streams, land use, parcels, streets, buildings, utilities, etc. can all be displayed as overlays. The resulting maps reveal the spatial relationships of the different datasets or other related information. In our case, we used GIS to pinpoint which households needed internet assistance.”

“We then applied a 3D modeling technique within ArcGIS Spatial Analyst called viewshed analysis,” said Hayes. “This is a method where cell tower locations and heights were placed into the model along with the DEM data. The analysis created a data layer where each area on the map was tagged red or green based on whether that grid cell was visible from all surrounding cell towers.”

Using this data, 90 Kajeet 4G Wi-Fi devices were purchased and distributed to Salamanca families living in remote areas and who lacked a direct cable run, giving them instant internet access.