The Internet Irony
Closing the Digital Divide in Ocotillo Wells
Last updated 11/13/2020 at 3:39pm
During the first week of online school last month, the Hernandez family from Ocotillo Wells had to fly to Guanajuato, Mexico, to visit a very ill family member. Being the astute students that they are, the children took their computers and assignments with them on the 1,600 mile trip. Once settled into their rural village of Santa Rosa de Rivas, they got online daily, corresponded with their teachers back in Borrego Springs, turned in assignments and kept up daily on Google Classroom. No problem.
Upon returning home to Ocotillo Wells two weeks later, the schoolwork stopped. No Internet connection, weak hot spots, no signal, no way to continue their education. With only 20 miles separating Borrego Springs from Ocotillo Wells, one would assume that in this year 2020, Internet connectivity would be a given for anyone, especially our students so desperate to learn. Also frustrated are the parents as they watch their children falling more and more behind.
This situation poses serious questions around equality in education. How can it be that our most vulnerable children faced with issues of language, poverty and isolation be the ones lacking the tools necessary to overcome these challenges and excel academically? It's disheartening and frustrating for the school district and for the families.
The lack of Internet in Ocotillo Wells has plagued the Borrego Springs Unified School District for many years. The small enclave of homes includes anywhere from 20 – 30 students at any time and even when school is in full normal session, students need the Internet for research, homework, college applications and much more. Groups and individuals have attempted to bring in a signal but nothing has prevailed (Borrego Springs Rotary sponsored a computer lab, 2010).
Now there is hope on the horizon – literally in the form of a 20' high antenna smack dab in the middle of the Ocotillo Oasis Motor Home Park, where the majority of these students reside. On the top is a satellite dish graciously provided at no charge to the district by GeoLinks, the same company that supplies Internet to the school district. In addition to their donation of the dish, GeoLinks is not charging families nor BSUSD for the use of the Internet they provide. Good fortune is shining down on Ocotillo Wells families from this shiny pole thanks to the benevolence of GeoLinks.
BSUSD Superintendent Mark Stevens and Technology Specialist Ricardo Fuentes spoke with other Internet providers who were either prohibitively expensive or whose signal was unreliable. GeoLinks, whose mission is to close the digital divide, is certainly doing just that, one neighborhood at a time.
A reporter for NBC Channel 7 News covering Internet issues for schools visited the Ocotillo Oasis Park two weeks ago and reported that for students living right next to the satellite, like the Hernandez family, connectivity is fast and efficient. For others on the edge of the residential area, Ricardo Fuentes is ordering new super wireless access points. These boosters should provide Internet for the entire area.
Slowly but surely, we are creating equal access to technology for our families. Equal access means equal opportunities for all students to thrive and reach their potential, not just for the privileged.