Centennial School District bridges digital divide

$2.8 million in grants will help connect students


SAN LUIS — The Centennial School District is moving forward in implementing $2.8 million in state funding to provide students with remote access to the school's wireless network and Internet. The funding is provided under the Colorado Department of Education Connecting Colorado Students grants.

In 2020, Colorado appropriated $20 million from the general fund to award grants through the Connecting Colorado Students grant program to increase access to broadband services for students, educators, and other staff who lack stable, reliable Internet access for online learning.

According to Toby Meltzer, Superintendent of the Centennial School, the project was born during the pandemic when students were at home and their engagement with educators was low, as many lacked quality Internet. The new service will bridge what is referred to as the digital divide, the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don't or have restricted access.

The project will equip all students with a laptop and Internet access in their homes so they can work and submit homework remotely. Self-supporting cellular capable towers will be employed to bring the Internet signals across the far reaches of the expansive district.

About 20 students in the town of San Luis will be connected to the Wi-Fi system this month and in October. Those students will provide feedback to the school on how well their connection works. The school has partnered with Ciello, the broadband internet service provider that is part of San Luis Valley REC.

Paul Hendricksen, IT specialist with the school, said the first phase over the next year is to provide the service to all the students in the large geographical area the school district covers from the border with New Mexico, to about seven miles north of San Luis. The district also includes San Acacio, Garcia, Mesita and Jarose.

Mike Musgrove, project manager said the school will be doing public outreach regarding the wireless connectivity, and that by January 2024, the western portion of the school district will have coverage, and the eastern portion will have coverage by June 2024.

The school will refurbish the old Garcia School and use it as a community learning center that will have an Internet connection by early next year. According to History Colorado, the school was constructed in about 1913 and is a prime example of the Territorial Adobe type of architecture. The structure was last used as a school in 1963.

School officials said they look forward to bringing updates on this project as it unfolds to the readers of the Valley Courier.