Veronica García

Santa Fe Public Schools is close to ensuring every student has access to the internet — a necessary step to continuing education during the COVID-19 pandemic

More than 96 percent of the roughly 12,000 public school students in the city have logged into the district’s digital platform at least once since the distance-learning effort launched last week, officials said.

Reaching the remaining 500 students has proven challenging.

“Especially on the south side, there are some neighborhoods that we need to reach with Wi-Fi,” Chief Information and Strategy Officer Tom Ryan said.

The district hopes to close the gap through a partnership with the city of Santa Fe.

The City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement with Santa Fe Public Schools to install free public Wi-Fi in parking lots at Sweeney, Kearny, E.J. Martinez and Atalaya elementary schools; Aspen Community Magnet School; Nina Otero Community School; and El Camino Real Academy. Wi-Fi also will be available outside public libraries and the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.

Ryan said the district also is waiting on two orders of a total of 450 hot spots that can turn a student’s cellphone signal into an internet connection.

Despite the delay in distance learning for some students, Superintendent Veronica García said the program has largely been a success.

“I do think that Santa Fe Public Schools is leading the state in this effort. We started way ahead,” García told the school board Tuesday night.

She was referring to the launch of the distance-learning initiative days before the state even required public districts and charter schools to submit their plans for educating students remotely during the shutdown caused by the pandemic. Continuous learning plans were due to the Public Education Department on Wednesday.

Albuquerque Public Schools is scheduled to begin its distance-learning program Monday.

“I did tell everybody there would be bumps in the road, but not as many as I thought there would be,” García told the Santa Fe school board. “I thought there would be far more problems.”

The district has distributed over 2,200 iPads to kindergartners and first grade students and around 9,700 laptops to students in grades 2-12.

But hundreds of students are still waiting for internet access so they can use the devices to connect with teachers and classmates.

More than 6 percent of students at the south-side Capital High School lack internet at home, compared to 1.6 percent of students at Santa Fe High, whose principal, Carl Marano, said 90 percent of students have been active and engaged in distance learning.

But Marano is worried about more than academics.

“What I’m hearing from my students is that they’re suffering,” Marano said. “Spring sports were canceled. Year-end performing arts are canceled. A lot of kids go to schools for extracurricular activities, and when that’s taken away, the joy of learning is taken away.”

Marano said Santa Fe High has retained a block schedule, in which most students take seven classes that meet every other day.

Teachers are instructed not to give students more than two assignments per week.

While the Public Education Department encouraged school districts to finish classes on a pass-fail basis, Santa Fe Public Schools is sticking with letter grades.

“It just made sense to continue with grades. With this, students are more likely to remain engaged in their learning,” Assistant Superintendent Vanessa Romero told the school board. “This protects teachers and makes it clear to students and families on how they earned their grades.”

For graduating seniors, the Public Education Department has waived the requirement of 1,080 hours of instruction and extended the deadline for seniors to meet graduation requirements from May 20 to June 19.

Marano said seniors at Santa Fe High will meet graduation requirements by passing end-of-year exams by May 20. Any student who fails a class this spring can meet graduation requirements by submitting a portfolio, complete work study or community service, or do another form of project-based learning by June 19.

While seniors must complete graduation requirements from home, García said, they will have a prom and graduation ceremony — eventually.

“One way or another. It may be October. It could be December. We have no idea. It could be July,” García said Tuesday. “We are committed to ensuring that they have prom and a commencement.”

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