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Beyond Boundaries

St. Vrain Valley Schools is harnessing the power of technology to close the digital divide in our communities and beyond.
Laurel Beeken teaches AP French 4 to students in person at Skyline High School, and virtually to students across the district via the AGILE program. Photo by Liz Allen.

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Today’s advanced technologies connect us more than ever before. With just a few clicks, people from across the world can be engrossed in a conversation in real-time, a message can be instantaneously sent from point A to point B, and language barriers can be removed with automatic translation technologies. In a district that spans 411 square miles, a core value for St. Vrain Valley Schools is that geography shouldn’t limit access for students. With that sentiment as a driving force, the district is harnessing the power of technology to elevate academic opportunities for students in the classroom, in their homes, and even across the state.

Our classrooms are becoming more AGILE

St. Vrain's course offerings are expanding beyond the four walls of traditional classrooms, and students across the district are now able to enroll in subjects based on their interests rather than their home address. With the new Advanced Global Innovative Learning Environments (AGILE) program, students can now log in from their home school and attend a class at another St. Vrain high school through a virtual platform. This allows them to take high-level, specialized classes including AP Art, AP French 4, AP Macro/Microeconomics, and AP Computer Science. Historically, for classes such as these, only a handful of in-person courses were available for students to engage in across the district and required a commute from their home school in order to participate – a barrier St. Vrain is removing.

“One of the biggest bonuses of technology is how it can make the world more accessible,” said Laurel Beeken, French Teacher at Skyline High School. This year, Beeken teaches a combined AP French 4 course to five students in person at Skyline High and 20 additional students from Erie High, Niwot High, and Silver Creek High virtually. The ability to enroll in the course online allows students to further customize their education to best suit their interests. 

 “I love that AGILE is giving students an opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Beeken. The program will continue to expand and increase course offerings throughout St. Vrain, as the district scales the program. Looking to the future, St. Vrain also plans to partner with rural districts and increase access for students across the state to be able to participate in AGILE coursework. 

Bridging the digital divide 

Access to the internet at home is essential in the modern age. Students rely on online applications, their iPads, and connecting with peers to build upon their lessons during the school day. Between the Affordable Connectivity Program, Comcast (Xfinity) Internet Essentials, the City of Longmont’s Sharing the NextLight program, and T-Mobile 10M project, St. Vrain Valley Schools has made it a goal to ensure that all students have access to the internet in their home. Even in an area as well-connected as Longmont and its neighboring communities, there are still some areas where options for quality internet access are limited. St. Vrain is committed to closing the digital divide for students who reside in these neighborhoods.  

Last spring, a grant-funded initiative spearheaded by St. Vrain Valley Schools and NextLight introduced internet access to a community center within a neighborhood that was previously unable to connect to a service provider. Now students can do their homework in a safe place near their home at no cost to their families.

“In supporting our community’s schools, we also support our community’s future,” said Valerie Dodd, NextLight Executive Director. “Both NextLight and St. Vrain Valley Schools know that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and entrepreneurs. By working together to connect them to all their opportunities for learning, we give them the best possible start in further building the Longmont that we all want to see."

Taking technology on the road

The Future-Ready Mobile Innovation Lab was designed to not only serve the students and teachers in St. Vrain, but also to travel beyond the district’s boundaries. “We have a strong grasp on STEM education and we feel it is a responsibility of ours to stretch outside our borders and share it with other districts,” said Colin Rickman, Director of Communications and Engagement.

Through grant funds, Rickman has led groups of high school students down to the San Luis Valley, where the Mobile Lab sets up at career fairs in the region to showcase the various STEM and computer science career opportunities available to students.

Frederick High senior, Owen Willis, has been involved with the Mobile Lab since he was a sophomore. “I enjoy building connections with students on the Mobile Lab Project Team and also with high schoolers across the state,” said Owen. Through these career fairs, student project team members run various computer science-oriented stations and interact with local students from the area. Owen sees the benefit of peer-to-peer connection. “When they interact with fellow high school students, they’re more likely to realize, ‘people my age do enjoy this.’”