Community-led digital equity solutions reach more Minnesota students
$2.35 million in grants awarded through a joint effort of Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity and Partnership for a ConnectedMN will advance work of 29 community organizations
MINNEAPOLIS – For students to succeed in school today, access to digital tools, reliable internet and support services is crucial. Almost a year after the COVID-19 pandemic made glaringly obvious the long-standing digital inequities that affect many Minnesota students, community-led solutions continue to be most successful in addressing these disparities. Today, 29 Minnesota non-profits’ digital equity work will advance as a result of $2.35 million in grants
delivered from a partnership between the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity (MBCRE) and Partnership for a ConnectedMN (ConnectedMN).
30,000 Feet, an organization that empowers Black students in St. Paul through culture, art, technology and social justice, will use their grant to expand their distance learning support program. The program ensures that at least 100 students will have access to a laptop computer, small group tutoring sessions and holistic services that support mental and physical well-being.
“We’re fortunate to have deep connections on the East side of St. Paul. We’ve been around a long time, with a rich reserve of families that we’ve been successful with — and those families trust us,” said Kevin Robinson, Executive Director of 30,000 Feet. “This pandemic has shown we
need to move with urgency to deal with the digital divide, and the easiest way to do so is with organizations like ours that can deepen existing relationships. Relationship-focused solutions will have the best long-term ramifications for our community’s growth.”
The grants awarded support a variety of strategies to enhance digital learning for Minnesota students, focusing on organizations serving students who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color in kindergarten through grade 12. These strategies include:
• Technology tools, internet infrastructure and connectivity: Examples include the distribution of laptops, tech licenses and creation of comprehensive device solutions for students by Change Inc and Breakthrough Twin Cities, fiber internet installation for student computer labs in the Lower Sioux Indian Community in the State of Minnesota
and the dissemination of reliable internet hotspots in the Twin Cities metro area by PCs for People.
• Culturally responsive and wrap-around support approaches: Organizations are responding to the unique learning needs of their community, like the Centro Tyrone
Guzman, CLUES, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Hmong American Partnership, South Sudanese Foundation and Project Nandi, fiscally sponsored by WoMN Act.
• Safe spaces for learning, tutoring and mentoring: Organizations including Boise Forte Tribal Government will provide computer labs for students without adequate home access to school and tech support. Positive Image that will create virtual tutoring initiatives to provide Black and other underrepresented mentors and tutors to students.
• Unique financial solutions: A partnership between Venn Foundation and Youthprise will provide loans to families for devices and/or digital support that will be reimbursable
from the family’s K-12 Education Tax Credit.
Grants were awarded based on expert insights identifying key priorities for allocating funding, and a review committee comprised of community members with a broad range of experience and geographic representation chose the recipients. Funding will be provided to programs
throughout Minnesota, in a mix of urban, rural and Indigenous settings. A full list of grant recipients and the grant award process can be found here.
“These partnerships are evidence philanthropy can come together in Minnesota and make an impact even in isolated, remote parts of the state that are often forgotten. This pandemic created a different landscape of understanding what access means in Minnesota’s rural, isolated and sparse populations, from the inability to connect to reliable and affordable internet to the immense toxic stress added by the financial crisis of lay-offs and the State shutdown,”
said Tuleah Palmer, CEO of Blandin Foundation, which serves as one of the founding partners of ConnectedMN. “This effort to collectively advance issues that improve the quality of life for folks shows we don’t have to breakdown — we can breakthrough. We are not going back to normal; we are going to bounce forward into a whole new level of well-being and I am excited to see what we get done next.”
A Collective Approach
Grants were supported by 36 local companies and foundations through MCBRE and/or through ConnectedMN. These organizations include, Best Buy, Bush Foundation, Cargill Foundation, Target and The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation Fund at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.
A full list of funders to both organizations be found here.
Says Dave MacLennan, chairman and CEO at Cargill, “As a global company based in Minnesota, we know that a strong K-12 education system is how we prepare a strong future workforce and keep our headquarters’ community competitive. Systemic inequality persists in education and
digital access is one of the greatest divides. Minnesota deserves more. The Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity connects Cargill with other Twin Cities companies, allowing us to combine our resources and deliver much-needed impact.”
More Help is Needed
To reach more students, companies and organizations are encouraged to contribute financially to the Digital Learning Fund or provide in-kind gifts (like devices and connectivity services).
Learn more about these opportunities here. Educators, local governments and prospective grant applicants are also encouraged to reach out.