NewsMiami-Dade public schools can help close digital divide to enhance students’ education

October 12, 2021
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Op-Ed in The Miami Herald, October 12, 2021

The global pandemic has been a time of awakening. In 2020, I was in the middle of a campaign for the Miami-Dade School Board, knocking on doors, making phone calls and connecting with countless families. I earned the trust of people who saw themselves in my journey and chose to tell me their hardships—like English teacher, Ms. Lee, who was struggling to secure devices for her high school students, or Gaby, a 10th-grader who had a device so slow, she had to complete homework on her phone. The COVID-19 pandemic not only illuminated the inequities in our country, it exacerbated them. One common theme I heard began to materialize: the lack of access to functional devices and reliable internet. As a district that prides itself on innovation, M-DCPS must act with a renewed sense of urgency to bridge the digital divide in our county. Our students deserve reliable connectivity throughout their community, functional and up-to-date devices, comprehensive digital literacy and equitable access to local partnerships and internships with technology companies. I am proud of the educators, principals, district personnel and staff who handed out devices so students could continue to receive instruction. Our school system was resilient during an unprecedented time. With programs such as Miami Connected offering free connectivity to students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, voters supporting the General Obligation Bond — which included some initial investments in technology — and the creation of the Technology Advisory Committee spearheaded by Board member Mari Tere Rojas, and supported by the Miami-Dade School Board, our district is taking steps in the right direction.

We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Time is of the essence. With ESSER funds, our school district has been given a rare opportunity to reimagine what it means to invest in our students’ future. M-DCPS has made consistent purchases in technology, but we do not have an ongoing budget commitment to replenish that stock. After the $165.6 million federal stimulus funds we have committed to student devices and technology infrastructure updates, what happens next?

Many tech companies are coming to our city providing a perfect segue for our students to not only engage with new technology, but also enter the tech field. Students, specifically those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, have historically been left behind. If we do not strategically and comprehensively address the needs of teachers and students in the 21st century, then we’ll all be in a position beyond repair. That is unacceptable. After 75 school visits and many meetings with Parent Teacher Student Association chapter presidents, community-based organizations, M-DCPS leadership, national experts and District 9 student fellows, my team and I have gathered enough data to introduce an item during this month’s Board Meeting with a clear framework for our school system to lead in closing the digital divide. But, we cannot do this alone. I am calling on all community leaders to prioritize this issue for the short- and long-term future of our community. Access to reliable internet and devices is no longer a luxury — it is a necessity. Let’s set a vision to modernize our county, together.

Luisa Santos

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district9@dadeschools.net
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