Ramsey County Community Updates

The tenth newsletter detailing how different communities in Ramsey County are handling the Pandemic. This week includes:

1. "Technology Access for Students and Citizens" Meeting Recap, including presentation recaps from:
PCs for People
CTV North Suburbs
2. Ramsey County Policy Action Group Updates
3. Land Use Conference Now Virtual!
"Technology Access for Students and Citizens" Meeting Recap

Last Friday was our members meeting on “Technology Access for Students and Citizens.” First, members reported on their current community or school district technology access challenges or concerns, then were followed by our four guests representing, respectively, ConnectedMN, PCs for People, CTV North Suburbs, and Comcast. As concerns with technology equity grow, this was an opportunity to help identify opportunities to combat this issue, as well as inform the four technology organizations what issues communities are facing. 

Meeting Recap:

Communities are having similar technological issues, including connectivity concerns and delays in hardware delivery. For example, some students in Mounds View Schools are using outdated devices while the school has been delayed on an order of 3,000 chromebooks. Consequently, ensuring no one is left behind in this new world can translate to delays in technology delivery and difficulty in obtaining hardware. There is a rush to obtain hardware, as many communities are using CARES funding to purchase extra devices.

Equity issues exist regarding virtual meetings, as not every parent or community member can access virtual meetings. CTV North Suburbs has assisted in this area, providing seamless and accessible meetings for Ramsey County communities. Another example of bridging the digital divide is Ramsey County’s “TechPak” program, a lottery-based program where anyone can apply and those chosen receive a technology pack, including a laptop, hotspot, and more.

As one member stated, we don’t discuss going back to normal, but talk about moving forward instead. This includes schools, as many districts are re-evaluating opportunities for in-person school, looking to county data as well as parent approval. Fortunately, feedback from the spring semester has resulted in better practices, such as the knowledge that Chromebooks are a great option for those deaf and hard of hearing.

Distance models seem to be working well, and for those using a hybrid model, teachers are perfecting ‘flipped classrooms’ while concerns over feeding and bussing remain. Childcare remains a large issue, involving staff having to be relocated to fill this need. Schools are working through these issues while looking to feedback, such as parent surveys, to form best practices. 
Jenny Tramm
ConnectedMN's purpose is to help students learn, thrive, and prosper, which includes offering equitable access to technology this fall and during the Pandemic.

ConnectedMN is a young organization, as it began this spring. It began by fundraising and grant-making. Grants help underprivileged families or help nonprofits obtain adequate internet access and devices, and can ensure students have all they need to log into their school virtual platforms.

Last Friday, (9/11) ConnectedMN reviewed 79 applicants with the goal of granting $2 million, cumulatively, to those chosen. Funds will be deployed by the end of September.
Andrew Elofson & Casey Sorenson
 PCs for People

PCs for People provides free and low-cost technology to individuals and nonprofits, as well as sustainably recycles hardware. They’ve donated over 115,000 computers throughout the country, many in MN to low-income families and POC. They repair thousands of computers each year, regardless of whether they distributed them.

Their retail stores are set up 1:1, similar to speaking with a social worker. For school events, they can offer food, computers, or both. They also offer digital literacy and financial literacy trainings. As they focus on individuals below the poverty level, their technology distribution map matches almost exactly to a poverty map. 
Dana Healy
CTV North Suburbs

CTV North Suburbs is located out of Roseville, MN. They are a digital media production partner, serving cities, municipalities, govt agencies, and nonprofits who are looking to connect with their communities. In 2020, they’ve served 70 govt and nonprofit entities.

How do they help schools? They provide informational access to the ‘grown-ups’ in these students’ lives, allowing the parents to participate in decision-making.

They are the go-to resource for local information, transforming meetings for local governments. They are also the team behind the Spanish, Hmong, and Somali translations for Gov. Walz addresses. They have exclusive channels in 40,000 homes, serving 9 cities and 3 school districts. They cover news other channels wouldn’t, such as high school athletics, local politics, or even a local parade.
Karly Werner

Comcast’s focus is 'How do we keep or get people connected?'

COVID Response: Comcast offers two free months of Internet Essentials ($9.95/month, speeds of 25/3 Mbps) for all new customer in 2020: this includes increased internet speeds and offering amnesty to households with a past due balance less than a year old. They've also installed free WiFi hotspots in the community.

How do they help schools? Through their Internet Essential Partnership Program, they contract directly with schools and local governments, in which local governments can sponsor internet essentials customers, potentially using CARES funds. Essentially, the Comcast bills will go to the contracted partner.

If there are any dead spots or technical issues, please reach out to Comcast! 
Ramsey County COVID Policy Action
Group (PAG) Updates
Debrief: The 12-member Policy Action Group (PAG), formed to manage policy issues and ensure rapid and long-term response in Ramsey County, has been operating since March. Read more about them in our first newsletter.

The group's more recent meeting was held on Monday, August 31.
Joe Gothard, Superintendent at St. Paul Public Schools

  • Waiver Extended: USDA has extended their waiver for their food program. This allows schools to not have to furlough hundreds of employees and has enabled their food program since June - 8 million meals served since March.
  • Progress Check-Ins: St. Paul Schools will check in and announce progress to the community on Sept 24th and Oct 14th. Data will guide decisions.
  • Distance learning support centers will be provided - high schools will be support hubs. These will serve limited, in-person groups of students receiving extra supports, and are looking to prioritize students based on referrals. They're also looking to establish an anchor partner for each of their centers, such as Boys & Girls Club
  • Bussing Challenge: There is major pushback from private school counterparts. The law says that public schools must bus their private schools as often as their own students. Private schools are frustrated with guidelines – some parents want their children in school in-person, but public schools may not be allowed to be in person.
Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo - Housing & Homelessness

  • De-Populating Shelters: Committee is focusing on de-population of shelters, as well as expanding shelter space and serving outside individuals
  • Current Numbers: Right now (8/31), 365 individuals are unsheltered and sleeping outside. To compare: a year ago, the average nightly unsheltered was about 30 individuals
  • Encampments: There are over 200 encampments. There has been a policy to NOT disrupt these unless they become dangerous. 2 sites are in that category: Cathedral Hill and downtown Mears Park. Criminal activity is happening. Indoor options have been identified, as well as increased law enforcement to ensure safety. 
Commissioner Rafael Ortega, Food & Basic Needs Subcommittee

  • Waviers: This committee had a great discussion with Congresswoman Betty McCollum, discussing waivers for schools, as well as the Snap waiver. They discussed how current criteria might need to reassessed, as many people fall through the cracks due to lack of criteria
  • New Contracts: On Aug 27, they signed three new contracts, with 1) Vietnamese Social Services, 2) Hmong American Partnership, and the 3) Isuroon Food Shelf. The committee continues to negotiate with other community groups to create contracts.
Commissioner Nicole Frethem – Childcare

  • Another Area of Assistance? Childcare may be another area for a policy subcommittee, as there are massive losses in childcare providers. The group could integrate with school districts, so the workforce can continue to meet demands without losing staff.
  • CARES Funding: How can we use CARES dollar to fund childcare business models during this crisis? How can we do this in a way that's culturally responsive and supportive of learning during this time? This group could help identify challenges providers are facing. 
To see longer summaries, including updates from the Waivers subcommittee and Financial Implications subcommittee, click here.

Mon & Tues | Oct 12-13
Day 1 | $70
Day 2 | $110
Both Days | $150
*Includes access to recordings of the days' you've registered for

RCLLG members receive 20% off registration! E-mail gts@mngts.org to receive the discount code before you register.
Zoom will be utilized as the video conferencing platform, allowing attendees to ask questions and network, as well as participate in polls and breakout sessions.

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