Nevada has achieved internet, devices for all students

Through a huge public-private coalition, the state has managed to completely close gaps in five months.
By: | January 6, 2021
Jonathan Kim/Getty Images

Conquering the digital divide, especially in expansive states such as Nevada that serve rural and urban schools districts and underserved populations, has been almost insurmountable.

Few states have been able to completely close gaps and ensure digital equity for their students.

But backed by public-private partnerships, the determined efforts of Connecting Kids and the state’s COVID-19 Task Force, Nevada has confirmed that all of its K-12 students are now connected to the internet and have devices.

The achievement comes after just five months of the launch of Connecting Kids, a group formed at the start of the school year to address the tremendous gaps in technology available to students. Nearly one-quarter of the approximately 500,000 children and teens in Nevada’s schools could not be affirmed as having either reliable internet or devices.

Every student has them now, including those who participate in face-to-face instruction and remote learning in the state’s 17 districts and their charter schools.

“Nevada accomplished this for our children through unprecedented cooperation coming from every corner of the state,” said Elaine Wynn, former President of Nevada’s State Board of Education who helped lead the effort. “Nevada’s digital divide was exacerbating existing inequities, and we did not have a moment to waste to address students’ needs. This coalition came together when business and community leaders learned some students would be left out of digital learning.”

According to Jhone Ebert, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, those inequities led to some students having to sit outside restaurants and libraries, as well as wifi-enabled buses, to get online to do classwork … or share devices with other family members.

“When Nevada’s school buildings closed in March, the Nevada Department of Education focused our response in three key areas to ensure equitable access to learning: devices and connectivity for students and families, high-quality professional learning for educators and staff, and high-quality digital instructional materials,” Ebert said.

How did they make it happen

In August, the COVID-19 Task Force created Connecting Kids to oversee the massive endeavor, which involved the state Department of Education, a number of charitable partners, state agencies, advocacy groups and corporations throughout Nevada.

One of the key pieces in the effort was the launch of an online tracker that not only displayed the progress being made each week in connecting students but was shared with state leaders so they too could help bridge those gaps through their connections.

Another was the $200,000 launch of a Family Support Center that took calls from families affected by lack of internet or devices. The Department of Education says nearly 45,000 calls were placed during the past few months from 18,000 homes. Through a partnership with Cox Communications, low-income families were able to get reliable high-speed internet through June 2021 at no cost. The Clark County School District utilized CARES ACT funding to issue internet subsidies to families through the Center.

Among the other positive results of the drive was the procurement of 18,000 hotspots through a partnership with T-Mobile and its Project 10Million program.

The Department of Education, the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Public Charter School Authority performed outreach to charter and rural schools. The Department of Family Services worked to ensure access for those in foster care.

And in a final push to get all students on board, the city of Las Vegas and Clark County School District sent staff members door-to-door to track down students they were unable to contact via phone or the internet.

It took more than a village to achieve the goal for the children of Nevada.

“Connecting Kids has demonstrated that when we work together toward a singular purpose, we can overcome obstacles and make a significant impact in public education,” said Jim Murren, Chairman of the COVID-19 Task Force. “Together, we established a coalition centered on trust and dedication, set a clear goal, marshaled resources, and held each other accountable. As we enter a new year and period of recovery, I hope we can build on this success and continue to unite on behalf of our students whose lives have been disrupted during this time.”

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