NM Public Education Dept. launch a program to connect students

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SANTA FE – The Department of Public Education has launched a program to help thousands of New Mexico students quickly get the digital connections they need by accessing available federal help. The New Mexico Student Connect program is part of a larger strategy to make reliable broadband internet and digital devices universally available for public education, even in areas without internet infrastructure.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have been investing in and supporting the rapid deployment of digital devices and Internet connections. By the time the new school year begins, we will have used all available resources to ensure that every student in the state has what they need to participate, not only in the distance learning program, but also in the many other ways we use technology. for learning, ”said Secretary of Public Education Ryan Stewart. “We connect people and bridge the digital divide. “

The New Mexico Student Connect program, run on behalf of PED by broadband consultant CTC Technology and Energy, has already called 1,000 students and families to find out if they have high-speed internet access and digital devices and know the emergency broadband benefit program. This federal program offers eligible households a credit of $ 50 per month on the broadband Internet service of participating providers ($ 75 per month for households on tribal lands) and a one-time credit of $ 100 towards the purchase of a computer or laptop.

This awareness will bring millions of federal dollars to New Mexico to help bridge the digital divide. Congress allocated $ 3.2 billion to create the broadband emergency benefit as part of a nearly $ 900 billion COVID-19 relief plan adopted in December 2020. The benefit is paid directly to eligible Internet service providers and appears as a credit on the participant’s bill.

New Mexico Student Connect will help families claim this benefit during direct outreach, or families can contact a helpline – by phone at 1-888-723-4505 (toll-free) or online – to get help. help with connectivity issues. The help desk currently offers support in English and Spanish, with plans to quickly add Diné (Navajo) and Zuni.

New Mexico Student Connect begins its efforts by working with the 23 focus groups identified in the historic Yazzie-Martinez Consolidated Trial. These districts are Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Cuba, Española, Gadsden, Gallup-McKinley, Grants-Cibola, Hatch, Jemez Valley, Lake Arthur, Las Cruces, Los Lunas, Magdalena, Moriarty-Edgewood, Peñasco, Pojoaque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Silver City, Taos, Tucumcari and Zuni. The effort will expand to other districts in the near future.

On April 30, First Judicial District Judge Matthew J. Wilson reaffirmed the urgency of the need to connect students by ruling that the state must immediately determine the need for digital devices and connectivity for at-risk students and their teachers, and to ensure that. the technology is provided to any student in the districts who need it. On May 18, the judge issued a written order applying his decision to the 23 target districts.

The Department of Public Education began collecting this data on May 6 through a digital survey for those who could complete it and through sharing the school district’s data elsewhere. The information arrived in various formats which the DEP compiled into a single database.

Preliminary analysis indicates that nearly 40,000 students out of about 199,000 (20%) enrolled in target districts do not have broadband internet service at home and about 12,000 (6%) do not have the technological tools. they need for successful learning despite public, private and nonprofit efforts throughout the pandemic to bridge the digital divide.

The DEP continues to analyze the data to determine digital access for the entire state – not just target districts. “We go beyond the court order and make sure every child in New Mexico has what they need to be successful in their education in the digital age,” said Stewart.

The CTC is also preparing to help school districts apply for a second federal program when a 45-day application window opens next week. The Emergency Connectivity Fund covers the reasonable costs of eligible schools to provide laptops and tablets; Wi-Fi access points; modems; routers; and broadband connectivity for off-campus use by students and faculty. Schools, not individuals, are asking for this funding.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund began with $ 7.1 billion earmarked through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief program that was enacted on the 11th. March. ECT funds will be awarded through the federal E-rate program, which helps make educational technology more affordable. This program will help provide at least temporary connections to tens of thousands of New Mexico students who live in the deserts of the Internet – places where no one has ever laid fiber.

In addition, PED is working with the Department of Information Technology to find longer term infrastructure options. “To be clear, this is a network issue and not a Ministry of Public Education issue. No one has built the broadband network to serve these students, ”said Patrick Mulhearn of CTC, who works with the state to collect data and develop and implement solutions.

The Department of Public Education has worked throughout the pandemic to expand digital access. This work included the distribution of 6,282 Chromebooks; supply of 102 Cradlepoint wireless routers and adapters; and, in partnership with the Indian Education Division, allocate funds to 101 mobile hotspots and 700 residential hotspots in indigenous communities.

“This new data shows how much work remains to be done to truly bridge the digital divide once and for all,” said Stewart.

About NMPED

The New Mexico Department of Public Education partners with educators, communities and families to ensure that all students are healthy, secure in their identities, and holistically prepared for college, career and life. Currently, NMPED serves over 317,000 students in 187 districts and charter schools. Find an abundance of resources for administrators, educators, families, and students at the New Mexico Department of Public Education (state.nm.us) or follow the PED at the NMPublicEducationDepartment on Facebook and @NMPED on Twitter.


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