Friday, December 1, 2017

ConnectME (My Education) - Solving for the Digital Divide Gets Traction!

In 2015, BVSD joined 3,100 other school districts in signing the Future Ready District Pledge, a program through the U.S. Department of Education’s ConnectED initiative. This pledge commits district leaders to fostering and leading a culture of digital learning. A target outcome of this pledge is to help schools and families transition to anytime, anywhere learning.

One of the key barriers to helping all of our families transition to anytime, anywhere learning is the digital divide. The digital divide is a very real equity issue here in Boulder, Colorado, and the surrounding communities. Many of our students do not have consistent access to devices or an adequate internet connection at home. With more and more instructional materials utilizing online tools, this creates an equity issue and an opportunity gap for these students. Solving the digital divide is an essential component to leveling the playing field and giving every student an equal opportunity to learn.

Screenshot 2017-11-15 at 2.43.08 PM.pngBVSD’s 1:Web program has made great strides with getting a device in every student’s hands at our pilot schools that they can use both at school and at home. We are continuing to expand into a district-wide implementation, with seven new middle and high schools joining this year. As students get devices, teachers are receiving professional development on classroom management, web-based instructional materials, and teaching in the digital age. Through this comprehensive program, every middle and high school student will eventually have access to a device, addressing the first major challenge of the digital divide.

ConnectME Logo.jpgThe second piece of the puzzle consists of connecting all students to adequate and sustainable internet access at home. ConnectME, or Connect My Education, was developed to help address this civil rights issue of our day by systematically bringing internet into the homes of our students. We want to ensure that we are approaching this in a way that can expand throughout the district without additional cost and is sustainable over time.

Our efforts in this area began several years ago, in collaboration with Impact on Education and Boulder Housing Partners. This partnership brought internet to ~60 families.  We have since shifted to a more scalable and consistent method of connecting students in need for free through a public/private partnership with a company called LiveWireNet® who specializes in high speed internet over the air. Through the partnership, BVSD is granting Livewire access to schools where they can install their small antenna. In exchange, Livewire is providing free internet to the homes of our students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. This program went “live” at Sanchez elementary last spring, and we anticipate getting Angevine Middle up and running in mid-December. By the end of the school year, we hope to have 30 families connected through LiveWireNet’s free service. We are also exploring another partnership opportunity to make wireless connections available to BVSD families in Kestrel, a Boulder County affordable housing community.

Our ultimate vision is to provide long-term, affordable ways to connect all of our kids in BVSD. While there are many programs out there that offer small-scale solutions or discounted access, I am committed to working to solve the problem systematically in a way that can expand throughout the district without additional costs. Every student deserves an equal opportunity to learn!


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