COVID-inspired free tutoring for Minnesota kids preK-8 through AmeriCorps Serve Minnesota

There’s a story behind this initiative –based on students’ need and AmeriCorps talented team and infrastructure. For busy parents who are juggling working and trying to facilitate teaching from home, I have something that might help. Remote tutoring that’s free. You don’t have to drive a kid anywhere or worry about exposure to COVID. You don’t have to pretend to understand how new math works. All you need is sufficient broadband…

Do you want to learn more about this new initiative to bring Reading Corps and Math Corps directly to families? Here’s how to works:

If you are a Minnesota family with a child in PreK – 8th grade, it’s easy to get started:

  1. Visit Reading Corps/Math Corps online for a personal consultation – it’s FREE! —
  2. Meet with a literacy or math expert to discuss the needs of your learner(s)

Based on the identified needs of your student, you’ll either:

  • Be matched with a reading/math specialist who will work with your learner(s)directly
    to provide skill building and practice (likely in a virtual setting) and/or
  • Receive resources and activities you can do at home to support learning

Schools across the country rely on Reading Corps and Math Corps to support students who need extra help. Our highly trained specialists focus on skill building and use research-based activities proven to work. For homework help and other assistance, please contact your child’s school.

MN college students donate devices to help senior connect with doctorsKSTP TV reports… The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated. Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors. “It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University. On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops. “A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic. It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

KSTP TV reports…

The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated.

Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors.

“It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University.

On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops.

“A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic.

It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

Senators Smith and Klobuchar join others to ask FCC to use E-Rate to connect students now

Senator Smith and Senator Klobuchar join a list of 30 senators sending a letter to ask the FCC to use e-rate to get students the broadband they need to distance learn if and when they need to do so…

As a new school year begins, students across the country are increasingly returning to virtual classrooms due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, studies indicate that as many as 16 million children in the United States lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. 1 These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas. 2 Without urgent action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we are deeply concerned that they will fall further behind in their studies. The current emergency demands that you take immediate action to help our nation’s most vulnerable children.

We specifically call on you to utilize the E-Rate program to close this “homework gap” without further delay. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to start connecting students immediately.

Red the full letter

Blandin funded computers help school (in Brainerd) transition to online when needed

I’ve been talking to counties about broadband and COVID. Most rural counties seem to be sending kids to school at least on a hybrid basis. (Often teaching online too for families who opted for that choice.) But they are all preparing for a quick change. The Brainerd Dispatch reports on what happened at Discovery Woods in Brainerd when they had to make a quick change…

Students at Discovery Woods in Brainerd will spend the next four weeks learning from home following confirmed diagnoses of two cases of COVID-19.

Leaders of the Montessori-inspired public charter school informed parents of the decision Tuesday, Sept. 15, to transition from a hybrid learning model to distance learning. Executive Director Kristi Crocker confirmed the cases and change to the learning model in an email Wednesday.

That transition was made a little easier with support from the Blandin Foundation

“We have even had TheShop (Brainerd Baxter’s Youth Center) reach out to let us know that through funding from the Blandin Foundation they are able to offer free desktop computer systems complete with mouse, keyboard, and monitor to families in need,” Crocker wrote. “It is that type of support that makes you realize why you live in the community you do.

Many kids in the Twin Cities are distance learning – tough for kids experiencing homelessness

I have been talking to folks in different counties about broadband and COVID. I think everyone I’ve talked to outside of the St Paul and Minneapolis has been using hybrid or full schedule in person classrooms. They are preparing for a change and most deal with families who opt for online only but most folks have kids in school at least part time.

That’s not the case in the Cities. My daughter in St Paul – all distance. Most of our neighbors – all distance. There are some exceptions. It’s hard all around but I think it’s hardest for the folks experiencing homelessness. MinnPost recently wrote about what’s happening to serve those in flux…

It’s the sort of resource barrier that districts are working to remove for many families. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools districts say they are checking in with their homeless and highly mobile families, to see if they still qualify for added services this year. But even that first step — simply connecting and sharing resources that are available, like hotspots — can be complicated, especially during a virtual-only start to the school year. Here’s a closer look at how both Twin Cities districts are supporting their homeless and highly mobile populations during distance learning at the outset of this school year.

Here is what they have been able to do…

Prior to the pandemic and resulting shift to distance learning, the St. Paul Public Schools district had already deployed a one-to-one iPad program, districtwide. District staff still had to troubleshoot internet access issues with families — and McInerney says she and her team have been helping deliver hotspots and devices to students who may be doubled up with other families in neighboring communities. But having that technology piece in place certainly made for a smoother transition.

In the Minneapolis district, students experiencing homelessness were among the hardest hit last spring. When schools shut down and all learning got pushed to a virtual format in March, Kinzley says her team identified about 1,600 students, out of about 1,900, without access to a computer or internet. “We had that gap to fill in a very short amount of time,” she said, noting engagement data dropped off initially and began to pick up again around week three, once more devices and hotspots had been distributed.

“We’re in a much better place this fall, but there are so many other barriers to engagement, beyond just making sure people have what they need,” she said.

Heading into the 2020-2021 school year, she and her team have been taking a pretty individualized approach, connecting with families to see how they can help remove barriers to distance learning. Sometimes that means sending a staff member out to a family, so they can borrow a cellphone, or arranging a cab so a parent can access registration or another school service. Beyond that, it’s more so a matter of getting word out about the various resources available to families — things like free school meal delivery for those unable to coordinate a curb-side pickup, and access to rental assistance through the Stable Homes, Stable Schools initiative, a partnership between the city, the district and other local entities.

EVENT Sep 3: Sen. Tina Smith talks with MN Education Advocates, Parents, Students on Challenges

From Senator Smith’s Office…

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith to Hold Virtual Discussion with Education Advocates, Parents, Students on Education Challenges as School Year Begins  

Watch Roundtable Discussion of Impact of Digital Divide,

Other Barriers to Distance Learning via Livestream

MINNESOTA [09/02/20]—On Thursday, September 3, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) will be joined via Zoom by education advocates, parents, and students from across Minnesota to discuss how the “digital divide” adds to the unprecedented challenges families face to stay connected as students return to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

You can view a Facebook livestream of the discussion here

At 1 p.m: Sen. Smith and the other participants will discuss the creative solutions that have been developed across the state to keep students connected and deal with other barriers to learning as the new school year begins.  

To deal with the digital divide, Sen. Smith has pushed to ensure broadband internet services are available across Minnesota, and has had her bipartisan measure to expand broadband services signed into law.  She has also supported $375 million in new funding for telecommunications-related programs as part of the major bipartisan coronavirus relief package passed earlier this year.

WHO: U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, education advocates, parents and students from across Minnesota

WHAT:  Virtual roundtable on how the digital divide, other barriers impact learning during pandemic

WHEN: Thursday, September 3 at 1 p.m.

WHERE:  View Facebook livestream of the discussion here

Bemidji State U and Northwest Technical College increase tele-mental-health

I wanted to share this because I think the increase in tele-mental-health for everyone is so important but especially for kids figuring our college and living in a pandemic. Lakeland PBS reports…

Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College are partnering to expand mental health services available to students and have received $120,000 in funding from the Minnesota State Multi-campus Collaboration Grant program. The funding will support the hiring of a new case manager, as well as provide increased support for student psychiatric care and equipment needed for secure Telehealth services.

A 2018 health survey of Minnesota college students found that more than 40% of those surveyed reported mental health issues, and 55% indicated that mental health issues impacted their academic performance.

The program “Expanding Reach: Mental Health for All” will support initiatives that strengthen BSU and NTC’s ability to accommodate student needs amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

Catholic Spirit admonishes US for lack of ubiquitous broadband

The Catholic Spirit reports…

Network disruptions, while not as many as feared across the United States, were still fairly common. Children whose parents had no access to Wi-Fi, or broadband — or even a computer — were in the virtual dark, left to pretty much fend for themselves for the rest of the school year.

During school systems’ summer vacation, more districts were planning to reopen on a hybrid model, with students alternating days between in-person and online learning. Then the positive COVID-19 test results started to spike, and the number of deaths started to climb again, especially in the southern part of the country.

Meanwhile, personal computers — laptops, tablets and the like — were selling like hotcakes, leading to shortages. Some schools cut deals with Google to furnish Chromebooks for their students — who, of course, would use Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Gmail and more.

They highlight some issues in Minnesota…

Comcast has extended its “Internet Essentials” offer to low-income households, although complaints have arisen about uneven access and other problems. One Minnesota mother tried it before the pandemic, and said the data limit and frequent, time-consuming updates made it “the biggest headache on earth” and not worth the $9.95 monthly fee.

Roughly 25,000 Minnesota students didn’t have computers or internet at home by late spring, about 3% of the state’s K-12 students, the Minnesota Department of Education estimated, with little progress in addressing the problem over the summer.

They quote Jabari Simama…

In his book “Civil Rights to Cyber Rights,” Simama wrote that the United States had “a moral obligation to see that broadband becomes universally accessible and beneficial to the public.” The urgency of the pandemic, he argued, may actually be “an opportunity to finally make significant progress on these digital issues.”

Distance learning highlights inequities – like lack of broadband

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the start if the schoolyear during a pandemic…

Teachers know that distance learning highlights all the inequities of the world outside the schoolhouse walls.

Some kids live in homes with high-speed internet. Some live in the blank spaces in Minnesota’s rural broadband map. In the spring, early in the shutdown, some students and teachers had to drive to the nearest McDonald’s parking lot to find a decent Wi-Fi signal.

Some parents speak the same language as their children’s teachers. Some parents are home during the day to supervise and help with online classwork.

Some parents can afford school supplies this year.

Voorhees is doing what teachers have always done: digging into her own pocket to make sure her students have the supplies they need.

The status of broadband in Minnesota in rural and urban areas

The Minneapolis Reformer reports on the status of broadband for students in Minnesota…

Roughly 25,000 Minnesota students didn’t have computers or internet at home by late spring, about 3% of the state’s K-12 students, the Minnesota Department of Education estimated. And so far this summer, there’s been little progress getting families online. The Legislature considered but didn’t approve additional funds for state programs aimed at building out broadband infrastructure in rural areas, where about 17% of families don’t have broadband access.

The Minnesota Department of Education recommends — but does not require — that districts provide hotspots and tablets for students who don’t have devices at home during distance learning. A partnership between the state and Minnesota businesses and nonprofits — including Best Buy, Comcast and the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation — has raised nearly $2 million to bring internet access and computers to students statewide; funds won’t be distributed until late September, however.

They paint a picture in rural areas…

For now, families without broadband access are still waiting for solutions. This spring, Lake Shore resident Kathy Moore’s three children spent hours each day waiting for videos to load and redoing lost work, anxious about missing assignments and falling behind because of their subpar hotspot connection.

This year, their school will start with hybrid learning and require students to participate in live online classes three days a week, Moore said — an extra strain on their already-slow connection.

And urban…

“A lot of people think that the rural areas struggle the most (with internet access) — and they do struggle, that’s a very real thing,” said Mary Lucic, community outreach manager for St. Paul-based nonprofit PCs for People. “But the urban digital divide is just as real.”

Network engineer and tech advocate Ini Augustine said a number of parents across the metro asked her for help with hotspots this spring, and she found that some of the devices were faulty or simply unable to get a strong connection — meaning families still couldn’t get online.

Hotspots can be a gamble because they require cell service, Lucic said. They might work well for families in a certain area, but someone a mile away might be in a dead zone with no service, she said.

Senator Klobuchar recognizes need for ubiquitous broadband

KAAL News reports on Senator Amy Klobuchar’s comments on broadband with Axios co-founder Mike Allen…

“I have met with virtually superintendents all over my state and they say, which is about the state average, 10 to 15 percent of their students really can’t access learning right now. They couldn’t this spring and they’re not going to be able to in the fall,” Senator Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar is hoping improved infrastructure in the future could mean more access to internet for people from different social and economic backgrounds.

What are Digital Navigators? They help your unconnected neighbor get online!

Earlier today I posted a video from a conversation with folks in Kanabec County and mentioned that ECMECC’s Marc Johnson spoke about working on Digital Navigators to help in their schools and students should education in the area go hybrid or distance again.

Then like a Baader-Meinhof knock on the door, the NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) send a link about their latest work on Digital Navigators.

What is a Digital Navigator?

Digital Navigators are individuals who address the whole digital inclusion process — home connectivity, devices, and digital skills — with community members through repeated interactions.

Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance. Often at trusted community-based organizations, Digital Navigators are familiar with resources that relate to digital equity, and they help residents learn to use critical online services that provide guidance with food support, rent, education, employment, childcare, government benefits and more. They recommend resources and check back with the client.

NDIA is working with some groups to deploy and/or start Digital Navigator groups. And they are sharing the information they create and acquire in the process.

Harmony MN is working on short and long term broadband improvements (Fillmore County)

KAAL TV reports on Harmony’s plans to get better broadband to students. They had long term plans, which have been delayed due to COVID shortages.

I’m happy they have found a solution to work now and glad they are also focused on a permanent plan for the future…

The long term good news…

In January, the City of Harmony received a $5.4 million dollar grant to help bring high-speed broadband to hundreds of homes in the rural town.

The short term good news…

“Due to COVID-19, we have been delayed in getting some of the materials,” said Alissa Stelpflug, the customer experience, and sales Supervisor at the Harmony Telephone Company. “But since we haven’t been able to start utilizing the reconnect grant yet, we have been able to utilize our MiBroadband services,” she added.

They are doing their best…

According to her, the school district provided a list of families in under-served areas, and they have since been provided with internet access.

Stelpflug said it’s a small fraction of the families that would have been impacted by the grant money, but the company is still working hard to help as many people as they can. Once the grant is ready to be used, more than 300 households and community buildings will have access to broadband.

Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) Working on better broadband in St Louis County

KBJR Channel 6 reports…

RAMS sent out a survey to districts across Northern Minnesota to determine how many families were lacking much-needed internet service.

The pandemic is forcing many to now learn from home which is proving to be an issue for families in rural communities.

Steve Giorgi, Executive Director of RAMS said there are many solutions that could help expand the access that they are researching.

“We’re getting student’s addresses. We’re able to plot that on a map and try to look at, can we place some towers, or are there existing towers in a geographical area where we can provide some wireless broadband connection?” said Giorgi.

RAMS is encouraging families to conduct a speed test for their internet connection ahead of the school year.

You can find more information on speed tests or check your connection here.

RAMS was an early adopter and proponent of the statewide speed testing – now everyone in Minnesota is encouraged to take the broadband speed test.

Iron Range Schools and families are focusing on broadband

WDIO highlights the actions of the schools on the Iron Range to make sure their students have the technology they need for school, whether in the classroom or at home…

“We have gotten hold of 150 hotspots that are ready to distribute and we will have those available for students who have difficulty connecting to the internet,” said Noel Schmidt, the superintendent for Rock Ridge Public Schools.

Steve Giorgi, the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) said over the spring they worked with school districts to survey students on their internet connection and said results were alarming.

“I think a lot of districts were unaware because when talking to the students, students report that they’re connected when they actually only have a cell phone,” said Giorgi. “Truly to accomplish distance learning you need a broadband internet connection.”

Giorgi also said they are in talks with schools now to offer temporary solutions for students by using wireless connections for a better service. For a long term solution, they had a meeting with a consultant Monday to look at different locations on the range for broadband expansion.

“We looked at 13 different locations on the Iron Range that are potential targets for broadband expansion. They’re underserved so they qualify for both state border to border grants and federal grants,” said Giorgi.

There’s also a lot happening house to house…

Families in the area are also doing their part to address the issue. Amna Hanson of Esko said she is about 10 houses away from being able to have broad band internet and can’t get the cable company out in her area.

“I have been in contact with the state agencies to see if I can get their assistance. Also I am waiting to see if the franchise agreement for our area requires them to service us. I am also in the process of starting a petition,” said Hanson.

Shantyll Carlson of Duluth said she had to pay a lot to offer quality internet access to her children who are in second and sixth grade.

“We just had to upgrade and pay four times more than what we were paying so that both my kids could do schoolwork at the same time without lag,” said Carlson.

Tessa Lasky who lives about 15 minutes outside of Cloquet said they currently have to use hotspot on their cell phones through AT&T.

“We have the highest hotspot package on our cell phones, which is still limited when talking about doing online schooling five days per week,” said Lasky.