Five months after it launched, a public-private partnership focused on filling technology gaps confirmed that every K-12 public school student in Nevada who is participating in digital learning has a computer and internet connection.
Connecting Kids announced Tuesday that it has verified that the nearly half a million students in the state’s 17 counties, whether they are engaged in full- or part-time online learning, have the resources they need.
The group used surveys, phone calls to families by school administrators and staff and community outreach efforts to make the determination, Nevada Department of Education Chief Strategy Officer Jessica Todtman said in a statement. Educators also monitored student participation to identify whose attendance might indicate obstacles to connecting to school and conducted outreach accordingly.
Earlier in the school year, a few thousand students did not have internet connection or devices, such as a laptop or Chromebook. Some would sit outside of restaurants, libraries or Wi-Fi-equipped school buses to participate in online school, the group said. Many also had been sharing family-owned devices or relying on cellular data plans.
The coalition was formed under the governor’s COVID-19 Task Force in early August when schools were unable to confirm connectivity for more than 120,000 students, the release said. The group was led by Elaine Wynn, former president of the Nevada State Board of Education, and Jim Murren, chairman of the COVID-19 Task Force.
The milestone was also a result of state and county efforts including the creation of a virtual Family Support Center, where call agents connected families to Cox Communication’s Connect2Compete program, at no cost to the family through June 30, 2021, and with the help of dozens of community groups, unions and faith-based organizations that spread the word.
In addition, Clark County staff members knocked on doors to track down hard-to-reach students and Attorney General Aaron Ford negotiated with T-Mobile to secure approximately 18,000 portable Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the state through its national “Project 10Million” program.
Families with multiple students participating in online learning and that were struggling with sufficient bandwidth were issued additional hotspots, and new devices were ordered by schools and districts to meet needs and replace those that were past their useful life, Todtman said.
But Nevada Board of Education member Felicia Ortiz says she still receives calls from constituents who do not have internet access.
“We have to remember that every day there are families in our community that are falling deeper into financial despair. If the family took this survey 3 months ago they may be in a totally different position today and not be able to afford internet,” she tweeted Tuesday after the announcement.
The Connecting Kids initiative has wrapped up after meeting its connectivity goal, but Clark County School District will continue to operate the Family Support Center for students whose circumstances have changed and may need an internet connection.
This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2021, to include comment from Felicia Ortiz and methods used to determine connectivity.