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The state of Minnesota is taking a big leap forward to help close the Homework Gap in their state. Paving the way for other states to follow their lead, the North Star State announced a grant intended to fund broadband connectivity to students without Internet outside of school. The legislature appropriated $500,000 to the Department of Education for this one-time appropriation.
We estimate 50,000 kids don’t have Internet access in the state of Minnesota. Kajeet has learned from its client base that a “general rule of thumb” is approximately 15%-25% of students participating in the Free Meal Program (not Free + Reduced) will not have adequate broadband access outside of school.
The Internet Broadband Expansion for Students Opportunity is designed to enable student access to learning materials available on the Internet through filtered mobile broadband connections.
There are two grants to support this effort:
Grant A: Support wireless off-campus learning through a student's use of a data card, USB modem, or other mobile broadband device. The purpose is to enable student access to learning materials available on the Internet through a mobile broadband connection.
Grant B: Use funds to purchase or lease equipment designed to make Internet access available on school buses, including routers and mobile Wi-Fi hot spots to connect to the Internet, and may also purchase or lease one-to-one devices for students. The one-to-one devices may be connected to the Internet through the Wi-Fi hot spot or otherwise contain content for age-appropriate, self-directed learning.
In order to secure this money, districts will need to include information related to the following:
- Demonstrate student need
- Show district capacity to implement
- Identify partners, if any
- Outline project plan
- Discuss sustainability
- Budget narrative
School districts interested in receiving this award should not waste any time applying as the deadline is Sept. 9 at 3:30 pm. Submissions must be received by that time, and not electronically.
You can find this Minnesota Department of Education grant here. After clicking, search "Access" in the purpose description.
If your district is interested in applying for the one-time appropriation (which is up to $50,000), here are a few things we find might be helpful.
Quantify the Need for Connectivity
The first step in a successful off-campus Education Broadband program is to determine the number of students who require connectivity, but do not have it at home. This step is critical as it will determine the scope of the program moving forward, including: necessary budget: funding mechanism(s), program management, and expected program impact.
- Which students require Internet connectivity because they do not have it outside the classroom?
- Which students will require devices such as laptops, Chromebooks, NetBooks or tablets?
To quickly scope the issue, Kajeet has learned from its client base that a “general rule of thumb” is approximately 15%-25% of students participating in the Free Meal Program (not Free + Reduced) will not have adequate broadband access outside of school.
The more accurate way to determine the need for connectivity is to conduct a formal survey of the students and/or parents. So a few tips:
- Be sure to clarify the type of Internet access they may, or may not have. For example, a student or parent may consider a Smartphone as having an Internet connection, but a Smartphone is not an adequate tool or resource to complete most homework and school assignments. Be clear about high-speed Internet that can be accessed by a laptop, computer, Chromebook, netbook or tablet.
- It may sound simple, but remember, if the household does not have Internet connectivity, they cannot answer an Internet-based survey form. Provide a paper-based, in-school survey, text-based message survey, and/or even phone-based survey to reach all households.
- The households most easily missed are often those with students in greatest need. If necessary, involve your existing community outreach to catch all households – Title I coordinators, migrant program staff, homeless program staff, counselors, home advisors, etc.
To assist you, Kajeet has created a sample student connectivity survey based on the best questions from hundreds of our clients. Please feel free to use this survey in whole, in part, or as a starting template for your survey.
which Students need devices?
Here are a few ways our clients have ensured Kajeet SmartSpots® get into the hands of students who need them the most:
- Identify students in need from social workers, counselors and/or teachers.
- Advertise within the school and community.
- Visit classrooms to let them know it’s available when they need it.
- Let teachers advocate for connectivity.
- Provide an application for students/parents.
- Involve staff member who know the students.
Start with your plan
Creating a plan shouldn’t seem like a daunting process. In fact, having a plan in place with goals, objectives, action items, timeline, budget, and ways to measure, ensures buy-in from the administration which can lead to success.
It is likely that your off-campus connectivity strategy is tied to a larger plan, like your district’s technology or mobile learning plan. Begin there.
Your Plan Should:
- Define success based on measurable data (e.g. increase in student attendance, parent engagement, student test scores, graduation rates, student engagement, etc.)
- Ensure you have unfettered access to the data.
- Ensure any set goals tie off-campus connectivity to your core instructional goals.
- Define how to gather support and participation of all of your interdisciplinary team members.
- State time frames and deadlines. Include time to procure the devices and service, staff training, device testing, student and/or library deployment, health checks and program evaluation, results analysis meetings.
Points and Details to Consider:
- Which students/schools need intervention? How do you know? Can connectivity help them?
- Could (or should) your plan support Title I Parental Involvement goals?
- Will you assign a Kajeet SmartSpot to each student OR create a library lending model?
- How do SmartSpots get from the warehouse into student’s hands?
To help you through this process, Kajeet has put together a reference guide to help you launch your off-campus learning program, as well as provided some helpful hints for applying for the grants needed to fund these programs.