St. Vrain Valley Schools has received a $1.3 million grant from the Colorado Department of Education to support a partnership with NextLight®, the City of Longmont’s publicly-owned, 100 percent fiber-optic internet service to provide high-quality internet access for low-income students. The proposal was funded as part of the Connecting Colorado Students grant program, which was passed during Colorado’s special legislative session in December 2020.
Through the grant, St. Vrain and NextLight will form a partnership to create and implement a long-term wireless solution that will provide robust internet service to unserved or competitively exclusive areas for income-qualified students in Longmont and surrounding communities. Additionally, the partners will expand the Sharing the NextLight program, which provides free broadband service for income-qualified students, helping to ensure its long-term sustainability.
“Access to high speed internet at home is critical to building equity and opportunity for all students,” shared Michelle Bourgeois, Chief Technology Officer for St. Vrain Valley Schools. “It is not just about homework or remote learning during COVID, it is about giving students the tools to explore, to learn, to develop their passions and interests and to connect with the world outside of school as they prepare for their future.”
NextLight’s broadband service is among the fastest in the nation, including citywide symmetrical gigabit internet.
“We’re excited to work with St. Vrain in this partnership that will benefit all our community’s students and educators,” shared Valerie Dodd, Executive Director of NextLight. “High-quality internet access has become vital to our daily lives, particularly in the way our children learn. This allows us to further strengthen Longmont, helping us to meet our residents’ needs today and into the future.”
To expand their existing network capacity, NextLight will reactivate a decommissioned mesh network at approximately 68 sites, with speeds of approximately 50Mbps to each user accessing that network. When extensions are needed from the existing network, fiber optic cable will be placed aerially or buried and terminated on electronics in the area that it is serving. Once the network is active, NextLight will create password protection and provide that information to St. Vrain staff, who will provide the login information to income-qualified families.
“The wireless network approach is a quick way to broadly reach many students with free and fast internet access,” Dodd said.
In addition to current students, this expansion will support families for years to come. The proposed solutions will target student households within the identified high-priority areas, providing free internet access to many of the 6,200 free and reduced-price lunch-eligible students.
“From access to our district digital library where they can explore topics of interest, to connecting students with their peers and their teachers online, home internet should not be the factor that limits a student’s potential,” added Bourgeois. “Ensuring every student has reliable and robust internet access both at home and school is an additional measure to ensure equity of opportunity for each and every student.”