EVENT July 7: Broadband Roundtable on innovative options for local media

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, Anne Brataas of Grand Marais will share her passion for local media, especially that which is created by young people. Anne is active in The Story Laboratory and the Minnesota Children’s Press. With the current challenges faced by traditional local press, this session will be incredibly interesting. Bring your thoughts and ideas.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

For more information, or to share ideas for future Roundtable starter topics, contact Mary Magnuson at memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org.

Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

WDIO interviews Bernadine Joselyn on the new ConnectedMN initiative…

Bernadine Joselyn is with the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropy.

“Truly, the silver lining in the work from COVID-19 is that it has shown a huge light on the inequities at the heart of our public education system,” she said.

It’s led to an initiative called ConnectedMN.

The Blandin Foundation, along with private companies like Best Buy and Comcast, along with the state, are stepping in donating and raising money to help.

“Part of what we hope to do is invest in immediate needs and invest in longer-term solutions,” Joselyn said.

At Hibbing High School, some of those immediate needs this spring were hotspots for internet access.

State announces public-private partnership to help tech needs of families with children in school

The hotspots were what saved us the most with letting kids get on for their distance-learning,” said Hibbing High School Principal Mike Finco.

Closing the digital divide for distance education estimated cost: $6-12 billion

Common Sense recently published a report on what it would take to close the digital divide in the age of distance learning

With the prospect of another distance learning school year on the horizon due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis released today finds that a full 15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning. The analysis, from Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group, also finds that almost 10% of public school teachers (300,000 to 400,000) are also caught in the gap, affecting their ability to run remote classes. The 32-page report, Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning, fixes a one-year price tag of at least $6 billion and as much as $11 billion to connect all kids at home, and an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers.

I’m more of a writer than a mathematician but that looks like $732 per unserved student and teacher. (That’s looking at highest estimate for cost and number of disconnected.) That doesn’t feel like such a high number – especially when you know that a house with broadband reaps an average ANNUAL economic benefit of $1850 – and that’s a pre-COVID number. Broadband is an investment is education and economic development. And especially during the pandemic, it can be a literal lifesaver to compromised patients who need healthcare services.

The report also pulls data out by state. Here’s how Minnestoa shows up:

  • Students without adequate high-speed connection 249,845
  • % Students without adequate high-speed connection 28%
  • Students without devices 162,607
  • % Students without devices 18%
  • Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 6,379
  • % Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 11%
  • Teachers without devices 1,046
  • % Teachers without devices 2%

The speed they are looking at for unserved is 25/3, which is the 2022 speed goal in Minnesota. In April, the Office of Broadband Development said 92.19 of Minnesota households were served – leaving 7.81 unserved.

So what’s the difference in these numbers? OBD is looking at available access only, which means if a household is in a served area. Not whether they get it or not, just if they could. Common Sense is looking at whether a household subscribes and do they have devices available to use it. Common Sense is looking at students and teachers access, not households. So the numbers tell slightly difference stories. Knowing the difference I think helps to frame the discussion of digital equity.

OPPORTUNITY: Rural Tech Project $600,000 in grants for educators

I saw this notice in the NDIA online discussion list and thought folks might be interested…

The Rural Tech Project is a $600,000 challenge to advance rural technology education and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. The U.S. Department of Education invites high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning.

Quick facts:

  • Who should enter. The challenge is open to any publicly funded school or local educational agency serving students in grades 9-12 in rural communities. “Rural” is broadly defined as a non-urban, non-suburban area. An area may be considered rural based on its population density and/or distance from suburban or urban hubs. See the eligibility criteria for further guidance.
  • $600,000 in cash prizes. Up to five finalists will be selected to receive an equal share of the $500,000 Phase 1 cash prize pool. At the conclusion of program implementation, one grand-prize winner will receive an additional $100,000.
  • Two years of ongoing support. From January 2021 through August 2023, finalists will have on-the-ground assistance, expert mentorship, and access to virtual resources as they plan, run, refine, and report on their programs.
  • Deadline. Program proposals are due October 8.

Governor Walz announces Public-Private Partnership to Support Technology Needs of Minnesota Students

Excited to share the news…

Today, Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan announced a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota that aims to meet the technology and connectivity needs of families with school-aged children. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

Before the start of the upcoming school year, ConnectedMN’s goal is to bring technology and internet access to students across the state, especially communities most in need, including Indigenous students and students of color, students from low-income families, and families residing in rural Minnesota.

“I’m grateful to see Minnesota companies step up and help meet the needs of students,” said Governor Walz. “We need to work together — as individuals, state agencies, private companies, and schools — to face the opportunity gap and make sure that Minnesota is the best state for each and every child to grow up and receive the best education possible.”

“As the parent of a seven-year old, we endured our share of triumphs and challenges with distance learning this past spring,” said Lieutenant Governor Flanagan. “Those challenges are exacerbated for low-income families, Indigenous families and families of color, and families in Greater Minnesota who may not have access to technology that meets their work and learning needs. Whatever school looks like this fall, this partnership will help us fill in the gaps.”

“As someone who grew up in rural Minnesota in a family without many resources, I am aware of how important this effort is. Without it, far too many of our state’s students will be left behind as we face an uncertain school year, more reliant than ever on the tools and resources necessary to learn remotely,” said Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy. “As a founding partner, we are pleased to work with the Governor and other organizations to truly ‘connect Minnesota’ and I call upon my fellow CEOs to engage however they and their business are able.”

“It is vital that all Americans are connected to the internet—for education, for work, and for personal health reasons, but unfortunately, many low-income families who live in our service areas don’t have internet at home and that’s where we can help,” said J.D. Keller, regional senior vice president, Comcast Twin Cities. “We are proud to be a founding partner of ConnectedMN knowing we can help through our Internet Essentials program, which is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low-income Americans.”

“Access denied is opportunity denied,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation. “It will require partnership to make sure that every student, in every corner of every county, has access to the knowledge, learning and services for their success.”

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) estimates that at least 25,000 Minnesota students lack the technology and high-speed internet access essential for academic learning, out-of-school activities and critical services such as telehealth. These students are disproportionately students of color, Indigenous students, and low-income students. ConnectedMN aims to supply these students with technology before the start of the upcoming school year. In addition, the partnership will work to create solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access in communities around the state, so students have the tools necessary to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health, and future career pathways.

Business and philanthropic leaders have collectively raised $1.65 million to date. In addition to the founding partners of the initiative, other organizations contributing include Accenture, Andersen Corporation, Bush Foundation, Ecolab, EY, Land O’Lakes, Minneapolis Foundation, Protolabs Foundation, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Securian Financial, SPS Commerce Foundation, and Xcel Energy. These organizations will provide financial support and resources to this important initiative, including in-kind products, services or other support (e.g., hotspots, devices, connectivity, technical assistance).

The Governor and Lieutenant Governor have prioritized the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) dollars to meet technology and connectivity challenges, with approximately $14 million earmarked for districts to prioritize devices and connectivity. MDE has prioritized distributions of GEER and the discretionary Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund dollars to districts with the highest numbers of students receiving special education, students of color, homeless students, English language learners, and students who qualify for free-and reduced-price meals. Districts applying for these funds should visit MDE’s website .

Partnership for a ConnectedMN’s application process will be available later in July. The Governor and State do not have a role in fundraising or directing funds for the Partnership for a ConnectedMN. More information on ConnectedMN can be found at www.connectedmn.us .

Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies Archive

In today’s Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable, Ann Treacy and Molly Solberg, each a social media wizard, shared how they work with local businesses to expand and improve their online marketing efforts resulting in increased sales.  The theme today was Small Scale Economic Development Strategies.  Through a combination of training, networking events and one-on-one technical assistance, they work with businesses to implement social media strategies.

They help the businesses establish goals, determine the most effective set of social media platforms and do the necessary work.  Molly noted her use of customized step-by-step powerpoint checklists that help to establish a disciplined approach that help a business stay on course.  Bud Stone of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce noted the importance and the difficulty of a sustained effort.  Ann Treacy said that she sometimes works to develop long-term community capacity by training a local person while assisting small businesses.  Communities need to consider small business technology mentoring as a core business retention and expansion strategy.  The benefits can be large, especially if the community can develop a core set of tech-savvy small businesses.  Thanks to Ann and Molly for sharing!

What to do with schools in the fall? Online, in-person, hybrid. Let’s ask an expert about online education

Today, having nothing to do with broadband, I had an opportunity to talk with Tracy Quarnstrom at Wolf Creek Online High School; they have been offering online and hybrid options for years. I had so many questions especially in light of the recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the State’s emerging plan for school in the fall…

Districts and charter schools have been directed by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to create contingency plans around three scenarios: in-person instruction, distance learning or a hybrid of the two. This week, MDE and the state Department of Health plan to release guidelines to help with the shaping of those plans.

MDE is currently surveying families about their views on fall plans; they received 100,000 responses in the first day! Survey is open until June 30.

Back to Wolf Creek. I wanted to hear about how they have made online school work because while my high schooler used to love class, she suffered this last semester. Judging by the comments to the Star Tribune article, our tough semester was not abnormal.

The schools were put into a horrible position, given less than 2 weeks to pivot to online/distance education in the midst of a pandemic. The pandemic meant parents were home, many teachers were now home with their kids, siblings were left to help teach, play with and at the end of the day not injure the only other children they were allowed to play with over three months. There were broadband issues, device issues and certainly mental health issues over fear of illness and loneliness of quarantine as we all learned to live with the new normal. And then we capped off the school year with the killing of George Floyd and resulting civil unrest, which impacted different areas and populations differently.

Tracy emphasized immediately that the problem wasn’t necessarily the online component, but the crazy world around us and the incredibly short time teachers and schools had to prepare. Normally getting online certification is a two year process. Wolf Creek is a student- focused school with online curriculum and optional campus two days a week. So they did need to make changes when COVID-19 hit – but the curriculum and how to teach were not issues.

They use Moodle, a Learning Management System. Students log in and can take classes using third party curricula and/or directly with teachers accessing videos, essay and discussion groups. Students can access teachers via Google Hangouts. They used to have some concurrent classes and on site speakers; that has changed. Another change. they increased the hours for the Guidance Counselor from 20 to 40  and are working with outside partners to help with Mental Health support.

And now that the campus is closed, they keep a Google Hangout open and staffed from 9am to 2pm. Students can pop in for help or just to say hello. They ran a deal where each time you popped in, you qualified for a chance to win a prize.

It’s an entirely different approach to education, again very students focused. When a student starts, the create an individual graduation plan. Each students id different. Some might simply take a class or two not offered at their base school. Others are finishing up a few credits. Some work better online and at their own pace.

I was reminded of friends who have declared after the last three months that they would never choose to work from home; I remind them that working from home is great. It’s the rest of the world that’s not so hot right now. Online/distance education seems like it could be the same. We need to borrow more from the folks who have been doing this successfully for years to create a culture where students can learn, thrive and stay healthy – online and off.

Rep Davnie introduces bill for $8 million for temporary broadband to students

Representative Davnie introduced a bill that includes funding for a distance learning broadband access grant program. It was read today and moved onto the Education Finance Division.  I applaud any effort to get students the broadband they need to participate in distance education. Speaking for my household, distance education is hard enough when you to have adequate broadband! Also ensuring that all students have access will open the door to schools providing more interactive classes.

The difficult part of the equation is the word temporary. Yes, students need this now but they will also need to tomorrow and next year and 10 years from now. I hope there is a plan or emphasis on creating connections that are permanent as well.

Davnie introduced:

  1. F. 117,A bill for an act relating to education; providing funding for and strengthening the Increase Teachers of Color Act; providing funding for early childhood education; providing funding for full-service community schools grants; providing funding for support our students grants; establishing a distance learning broadband access grant program; requiring school districts and charter schools to use the September 2020 permanent school fund apportionment for certain purposes; requiring reports; appropriating money; amending Minnesota Statutes 2018, sections 124D.16, subdivision 2; 136A.1275, subdivision 1, as amended; 136A.1791, subdivisions 1, as amended, 2, 3, as amended, 4, 5; Minnesota Statutes 2019 Supplement, sections 122A.70; 124D.151, subdivision 6; 126C.05, subdivisions 1, 3; 126C.10, subdivision 2d; 136A.1275, subdivisions 2, 3; Laws 2019, First Special Session chapter 11, article 3, sections 22, subdivision 3; 23, subdivision 5; article 8, section 13, subdivision 2; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapters 120B; 122A; 136A.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Education Finance Division.

Here is the portion on broadband

Section 1. DISTANCE LEARNING BROADBAND ACCESS GRANT PROGRAM.

Subdivision 1.

Definition.

For the purposes of this section, “commissioner” means the
commissioner of education.

Subd. 2.

Establishment.

A distance learning broadband access grant program is
established in the Department of Education to provide temporary wireless or wire-line
broadband access to students currently lacking Internet access so that the students may
participate in distance learning offered by school districts and charter schools during the
peacetime public health emergency period that relates to the infectious disease known as
COVID-19.

Subd. 3.

Eligible expenditures.

A grant awarded under this section may be used to:

(1) provide a student with a data card, USB modem, or other mobile or temporary
broadband device that enables the student to access learning materials available on the
Internet through a mobile or temporary wireless or wire-line broadband connection;

(2) reimburse a school district or charter school for actual costs incurred to provide
emergency distance learning wireless or wire-line broadband access during the 2019-2020
school year; and

(3) reimburse a school district or charter school for the cost of wireless or wire-line
broadband Internet access for households with students that did not otherwise have Internet
access before March 13, 2020, for the 2019-2020 school year.

Subd. 4.

Eligible applicants.

A Minnesota school district or charter school may apply
for a grant award under this section.

Subd. 5.

Application review.

(a) An applicant for a grant under this section must file
an application with the commissioner on a form developed by the commissioner. The
commissioner may consult with the commissioner of employment and economic development
when developing the form.

(b) An application for a grant under this subdivision must describe a school district’s or
charter school’s approach to identify and prioritize access for students unable to access the
Internet for distance learning and may include a description of local or private matching
grants or in-kind contributions.

(c) A school district or charter school may develop its application in cooperation with
the school district’s or charter school’s community education department, the school district’s
or charter school’s adult basic education program provider, a public library, an Internet
service provider, or other community partner.

(d) The commissioner must award grants under this section on a first-come, first-served
basis.

(e) The commissioner must develop administrative procedures governing the application
and grant award process.

Subd. 6.

Grant amount.

The commissioner must establish a maximum per-pupil amount
for grants awarded under this section based on (1) the number of districts and charter schools
that apply for a grant, and (2) the availability of federal money for a similar purpose.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 2. PERMANENT SCHOOL FUND; SEPTEMBER 2020 APPORTIONMENT.

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a school district or charter school must use the
September, 2020, permanent school fund apportionment under Minnesota Statutes, section
127A.33, to provide mental health services and support for students or to purchase
educational technology for students, including hardware, software, or connectivity.

Sec. 3. APPROPRIATION.

$8,000,000 in fiscal year 2020 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner
of employment and economic development for transfer to the commissioner of education
for emergency distance learning wireless or wire-line broadband access for student grants
for school districts and charter schools under section 1. Up to five percent of the appropriation
under this paragraph may be used to reimburse reasonable costs incurred by the Department
of Education to administer section 1. This is a onetime appropriation. Any funds that remain
unexpended on September 30, 2020, are transferred to the border-to-border broadband fund
account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396. By December 1, 2020, the
commissioner of education must report to the legislature regarding the number of districts
and charter schools that received grants under section 1 and the number of students that
were provided Internet access. The report must also identify the costs to administer the grant
program and the amount transferred to the border-to-border broadband fund.

Senator Klobuchar on added need and efforts for broadband during pandemic

Owatonna’s People’s Press posts an editorial from Senator Amy Klobuchar…

In rural communities throughout Minnesota, roughly 16 percent of households lack access to high speed internet. That means 144,000 households are missing out on the benefits that come with broadband. And that’s simply unacceptable. I’ve heard from school superintendents across our state who are partnering with small broadband providers directly in order to help their students without internet access. These are innovative partnerships that will help our kids during this difficult time.

But in 2020, it’s not right that some parents in rural parts of our state have to drive to restaurants and coffee shops so their kids can do their homework. One mother from Embarrass, Minnesota had to drive forty minutes to a McDonalds’s parking lot in Virginia to get an internet connection so her son could do his homework and her daughter could videoconference with her math teacher. We need to make sure our children can continue their education by participating in distance learning with internet access at home.

That’s why — following the announcement that K-12 schools would be closed in response to the pandemic — I worked with Sen. Tina Smith to urge the Federal Communications Commission Chairman to ensure that all K-12 students in our state have access to high-speed internet so they can access online learning.

I also introduced legislation with North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer — the Keeping Critical Connections Act — to help small broadband providers continue to provide internet services for students and low-income families in rural areas. This legislation would create a $2 billion fund at the FCC that would help these families remain connected to their school, work, and communities.

I’ve always believed that when we invest infrastructure like broadband, we invest in opportunity for every American and help to bridge the digital divide. My bipartisan legislation to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps was signed into law last month. This bill is in an important step forward in helping us to determine where broadband is available across the country. Our students and families need reliable broadband services so they can continue working and learning during this time.

But there is more work to do and I will continue to press for additional funding so that all students can access the internet at home, regardless of their zip code.

Our children — no matter where they live — deserve to be able do their homework at home. Families should be able to access the services they need. These are uncertain times, which are testing all of our courage and fortitude, but I will continue working to make sure Minnesotans get the help they need.

Incorrect MN broadband maps making some areas ineligible for broadband grant and leaving students offline

MinnPost reports on folks in rural areas trying to keep up with distance eudcation depsite spotty broadband and the maps that are overstating their access and making it harder to get grants and other funding to upgrade to sufficient broadband. They spoke with a family in in Lake Shore, a northern Minnesota community served by the Brainerd Public Schools district – but I’ve heard similar in other places too…

Ideally, for a faster, more reliable connection, they’d connect their home to the local provider’s nearest cable hub box, located just a quarter mile down their driveway. But it’s never going to happen, Moore says, because the expense of building out that connection isn’t an economical one for the provider.

She’d like to apply for state grant dollars allocated to these very projects in rural communities. But on state maps, her household gets marked as covered by a local provider — a glitch in the system that makes her and many in her community ineligible.

“Until that gets fixed, lots of communities like ours are going to be passed over. We’ll still have kids going to school, people working from home,” she said. “We’re waiting for the system to catch up with reality.”

The article gives a deserved nod to Rep Ecklund and Sen Westrom, who have each been pushing funding in the Minnesota Legislature. And shows the DEED served/unserved map – that most readers will know (also show at right). They talk about the school’s survey too..

In early May, the state Department of Education asked all public school districts and charter schools to self-report the number of individual students without internet access or access to a device for distance learning. The data set isn’t complete, but based on the counts provided by 540 districts and charter schools — including the state’s three largest districts — 20,899 students were still lacking access to a device in early May, and 21,523 were still lacking internet access.

According to the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA), those counts seem a bit low. Their analysis shows that nearly 31,000 rural public students live in households that do not have adequate broadband access (defined as a connection with at least 25 Mbps download speed and at least 3 Mbps upload speed), accounting for 85 percent of the statewide total. The association arrived at these estimates by combining the Minnesota State Office of Broadband Development coverage maps with the American Community Survey data on households with persons under age 18 in each school district, along with state Department of Education data on 2018-19 student enrollment.

I know the survey I received as a parent did not define broadband or access. It asked if we had access to the Internet. I’ve heard the same from folks in other districts. So access at grandma’s may have been counted – even if that isn’t’ 25/3.

Another deserved nod to broadband providers and recognition that they cannot keep giving away access AND invest in future, better soltuions…

The scope of the need, when it comes to closing the digital divide, has also been blurred by the goodwill of providers that stepped up by offering free services and hotspots to districts and families across the state, to finish out the school year from home. …

“It’s not a sustainable model, for the long-term,” she said. “We’ll have to figure out something else.”

 

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects with the GRIZZLIES (Cook, Orr and Bois Forte)

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks from the GRIZZLIES today. (Grizzlies is the mascot for North Woods School, which was opened in 2012 when the schools in Cook, Orr and Bois Forte were consolidated.)

It’s great to see how well the three communities work together. Really great.

And they provides a handy list of all of their projects:

  1. QuickBooks Online (Lisa Hyppa)
    The Grizzly’s continue to work with Lisa Hyppa to provide QuickBooks online education and program development to local business throughout our region. The intake of this program has given multiple local businesses the opportunity to manage their business online and educate themselves in basic accounting practices provided through Lisa.
  2. Cook Library WIFI Hotspots (Crystal Phillips)
    The Cook Library continues to Provide WIFI access points and computer access to Members of the Cook Library. During the Covid-19 crisis, the WIFI hotspots are in high demand. The success of this program has led to the procurement and disbursement of WIFI hotspots to all elementary students of the Nett Lake Elementary school in order to provide a means of communication between school children and teachers in areas where broadband is limited.
  3. Orr Center Wireless Buildout (Wendy Purdy)
    The Orr Center (Old Orr High School) was in need of new wireless equipment. Since the closing of the school, the original Cisco access points were in dire need of replacing. Local Tech guys Lou Pliml, and Evertt Huismann completed a wireless implementation of the school providing coverage to all areas of the building. Lou and Evertt donated a considerable amount of time chasing old cut out wiring and replacement of cabling to make this project a success.
  4. Wireless to Ball Fields Grizzly’s school (John Vukemanich, Lou Pliml, Evertt Huismann)
    The Grizzly’s school had a request to enhance its WIFI access to the ball fields surrounding the school. The school teachers and athletic programs utilize this WIFI to provide program access to the school children and athletic game broadcasting via you tube. This project got highly technical as it required fiber optic cabling to be installed within the school to the roof of the school. One directional Wireless bridge was installed on top of the school and the other on top of the Football field broadcasting house to make the wireless connection. An outdoor access point was then installed at the football broadcasting house connecting the teachers, students and media broadcasters to the school network. Local Tech guys Lou Pliml and Evertt Huismann installed and setup the equipment. Bois Forte Purchased and donated the fiber optic cabling and bridging equipment needed to provide the equipment between the school and Football field clubhouse.
  1. Art Unlimited- Website Design training
    Our original intention of this program was to develop a specific website tailored to all sports activities of the Grizzly’s school and have it built solely by Art Unlimited out of Cook. Throughout this website would be various content on games and activities with links for community members to watch local games being broadcasted via broadband through computer, iPads, iPhones etc.  Once we progressed, we revisited our intention and realized it was not in the best intention of the school nor the students. We then retailored the program such that Art Unlimited would train and teach various students on how to build and develop websites, gather information and how to manage sites properly. This project did not go unnoticed from the school district. In due diligence we notified the school district of our intention on providing school activity content via this newly created website and after a few short meetings they were ok with the project. This project has been indivertibly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, but will still manage to go Live in June prior to the start of the upcoming years athletic programs.
  1. Zup’s Online Ordering Process
    Due to Covid-19, various community members reached out to us for assistance on how best to provide social distancing when forced to enter small community-based grocery stores. We decided that a web-based ordering system for food from the local Zup’s IGA would best satisfy the community’s needs and provide the protection necessary to safeguard a lot of the elderly and at-risk community members within our area. The website has been up and running and handling several requests per day. We are anticipating early June for completion as each item throughout the store must be accounted for and maintained throughout the website in a specific database. Local Web Designer Art Unlimited and Local tech guy Lou Pliml were influential on integration and implementation of this project. Zup’s IGA expressed their appreciation recently on the project and how it has aided their business throughout this epidemic.
  1. Nett Lake Fiber to the Home Project
    Due to the implementation of various broadband activities and projects throughout our region provided through the Blandin Foundation, the Bois Forte Reservation was successful in applying for DEED Fiber to the home funding to build out a complete fiber optic to the premise buildout. Other contributing sources of funding came through the IRRRB and Shakopee Reservation. No funding through the Blandin Foundation was used to acquire this grant funding, but was considered one of the primary sources of community-based involvement needed to prove that such a buildout is necessary and financially stable to implement within this region. Bois Forte is now researching funding opportunities to provide engineering costs and estimates to the communities that have close ties to the reservation. These community include the City of Orr, Cook, Tower, Soudan and the Greenwood Township area.

Dakota Language gets new life with Zoom

MN Public Radio reports…

These days, Dakota — the native language of the Prairie Island Indian Community — isn’t widely spoken.

But the tribe is trying to change that and the pandemic has offered them an unusual opportunity to do so: by bringing language classes online, they’ve been able to reach more members than ever before.

In person classes have typically attracted a handful of people, said tribe communications manager Rayanna Lennes.

Using technology like Zoom to teach live classes, and archiving them online, gives far-flung tribal members an opportunity to reconnect with their language — and each other.

I love this. The loss of a language is huge loss to the culture and to see how technology is bringing it back is amazing.

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Aitkin

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks in Aitkin today.

Like all of the latest BBCs, COVID played a big role in both preparing the community for the pandemic quarantine and stopped projects in their tracks. In Aitkin we heard a lot about healthcare. Turns out they were able to serve 900 patients online in the first few weeks of the quarantine because they were prepared – but also because policy, especially around reimbursement made it financially possible. In fact, the health care folks were somehow able to expedite a plan scheduled really through the end of the year to deploy measures in weeks. Wow!

There were also some projects like the fancy new super-efficient conference room at the Birch Street Center where at first were put on hold as communities meetings were cancelled but now it back in play as they are planning to use it to stream Tai Chi classes for local seniors.

Aitkin is still working on getting broadband and it was good to hear about their short term plans to get it to people immediately but also long term goals to make sure they got what they needed.

Pro Bono Consulting for K-12 Districts from NDIA list

I wanted to share two free resources today. First the NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance), if you don’t know then, is …

a unified voice for home broadband access, public broadband access, personal devices and local technology training and support programs. We work collaboratively to craft, identify and disseminate financial and operational resources for digital inclusion programs while serving as a bridge to policymakers and the general public.

They have a listserv that is particularly useful for ideas for practitioners, researchers and policy wonks.

From that list, I learned about the following opportunity. I don’t know much about the group making the offer – but seemed like a deal worth sharing…

The Learning Accelerator – a national nonprofit – recently launched a large-scale, FREE coaching network that brings together some of the nation’s top expert consulting organizations to offer school districts rapid, customized, and sustained guidance on how to successfully shift to remote learning and prepare for instruction in the fall and beyond. The Always Ready For Learning Network includes the following coaching partners (with more being added soon): 2Revolutions, Afton Partners, Catalyst:Ed, Highlander Institute, InnovateEDU, ISTE, KnowledgeWorks, LINC, PowerMyLearning, and Transcend.

Summer school a good fit for schools in communities with limited broadband?

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the recent decision to lift stay at home restrictions that include schools…

The state first shifted to distance learning on March 30 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walz announced later that the move would remain in effect through the current school year.

The new order allows for classroom instruction if schools comply with state Department of Health guidelines on masking, social distancing, personal hygiene, screening and cleaning. The order states that being able to attend school is especially important to students in communities with limited broadband access as well as those needing engagement and mental and physical health supports.

Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said the state was well aware that many students struggled with distance learning.

“We are excited to be able to offer some in-person learning opportunities,” she said.

I have mixed feelings. I think kids and parents are probably glad for the activity but worried about health risk. It is difficult to hear that rural areas are in a different position than urban counterparts because of their lack of access. (Urban areas likely have issues with affordability and lack of devices.)  It’s difficult that any decisions be made because of limited broadband. In a time with so many unknowns and such dire consequences, it seems like solving the broadband equity issue is an easy one. We have the expertise (great providers), we have a system in place (broadband grants), we have demand, we just need funding!