Access to countless opportunities and experiences emerges when you put a computer and internet access in the hands of a student. Their world opens, the questions they have are suddenly connected with possible answers, and the potential of that student multiplies.
This year, Las Cruces Public Schools found itself at the crossroads of what it meant to close the digital divide. Thanks to local and state partnerships, we addressed gaps in dependable, affordable internet access through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. We were able to ensure every student who needed a laptop or a tablet had one, and – more importantly – we embarked on a path to digital literacy training and dependable technical support. Together, those components are a long-term and holistic solution to a total closure of the digital divide that our district knew not too long ago.
During a “normal” school year, this would be incredible news. During a pandemic, this is vital news. Because of our efforts to keep our students in schools, a digitally literate school community harnesses the power to make an immediate shift to remote learning should the need arise. Through a push from our district leaders, in tandem with guidance from the New Mexico Public Education Department, your public school district is in a unique position. In fact, other districts across the state are reaching out for our assistance to help them get where we are.
Reaching an equitable playing field in technology for all our students is the cornerstone of the Virtual Learning Academy, or VLA. I’m sure you have heard a lot about this option over the last few weeks. Originally designed to address credit recovery, the VLA is about ten years old in LCPS and typically saw about 30 to 40 students each semester. This year, as public health orders changed and COVID numbers fluctuated, a record number of parents reached out to LCPS to enroll their students in VLA. To date, we have just over 600 students attending school through VLA and we’re addressing staffing needs to accommodate more. Because of the lessons learned over the last 18 months, we know how important it is to stay flexible for our families who depend on us to provide options that are suited for every student.
As I write this, I am mindful of the parent asking “Why, then, does my child still not have a computer or internet?” We are aware of a few exceptions where parents reached out because of their service area or other specific circumstances, and we are working through those on a case-by-case basis. If this pertains to you, please contact your child’s principal so we can help.
Equity in education is about opportunity, and the world we live in has a better chance of improvement when we give each student a level playing field to succeed.
-Ralph Ramos, Superintendent at Las Cruces Public Schools.