Thanks to the generous support of the citizens and the taxpayers of the Estes Valley for providing our students an open door to the world through placing a computer tablet in the hands of every student in grades 3-12. Students in our classrooms are sometimes working with traditional paper-and-pencil tasks, but also you will see young people using our district broadband connection to tackle real-world problems and seek points-of-view from across the planet.
Most rural and small Colorado districts are not fortunate enough to have the world at the fingertip of every student. In the evening, the story changes when our students head home with their tablet. In a recent Estes Park Schools Technology survey of students, our young people reported that 25 percent of households do not have a broadband or internet connection suitable for completion of homework or schoolwork. For example, our students in grades 6-12 utilize an online mathematics curriculum, called Big Ideas. Technology-based curriculums have a key advantage as they are updated by the publisher more than any book-based materials. Estes Park Schools cutting-edge math curriculum also affords students online support with real-time feedback and solutions. When we send students to a home that does not have adequate access to a robust internet connection, those students are not afforded the technology-based support for math homework.
To increase efficiency and save precious resources, our teachers are placing more learning and class materials online. These teacher-constructed online resources offer our students valuable skills to build digital citizenship. Ultimately, through modeling digital citizenship, by accessing community-wide broadband, we certainly bring the world to our Valley and also encourage our present students to be our future business and government leaders.
Access to broadband internet is an economic issue affecting many rural schools, not just in the Estes Valley. In a 2016 report from the National School Board Association, entitled, Educating Students in Rural America: Capitalizing on Strengths, Overcoming Barriers, the groundbreaking report identified access to broadband and to technology as the number one issue facing rural schools across the United States. The report offered a clear statement about the need for broadband, “To ensure students benefit from learning opportunities facilitated by technology, the study group encourages states to map geographic areas that lack access to broadband, marshal resources to address the needs in these areas, and leverage capacity and professional learning to translate technological access into high-quality learning.” Thus, access to modern and fast internet is key to proving ongoing learning opportunities to all our students.
Parents also need a fast internet connection to stay connected to extended families and access our district’s system to track attendance and students’ success. Furthermore, parents encourage the school district to enhance the 21st Century Skills of our students. Access to broadband internet and technology are key facets to build the 21st Century Skills of information access, collaboration, and innovation. Not surprisingly, the rapid expansion of online college classes and degree programs is also another key concern for our parents. Without a college or university in town, allowing all adults in our Valley to continue their education and life-long learning is critical. Students can certainly access these online college and university courses, as well.
Our community members, from the parents to the students, from across the Estes Valley realize that access to broadband is both an educational and economic opportunity. A fast and reliable internet connection brings education to our students, parents, and other adults across our Valley. Without multiple and redundant broadband connections to serve the Valley, when the internet goes down, not just cell phones stop working, but learning is disrupted, not only for our school-aged young people, but for a hard-working mom at home trying to better her life through an online degree.
Thank you to the Estes Park Economic Development Corporation for its hard work to bring attention to the fact access to broadband is an educational challenge to adults and children, alike.
By Dr. K. Kevin Aten
Director of Innovation and Instruction
Estes Park School District