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Heroes at Work: Navajo Prep goes all-in on internet access during pandemic learning


Navajo Preparatory School, one of three winners in the eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards program, committed to remote internet access for all students--not an easy feat for a rural and far-reaching campus

Heroes at Work is a three-part series featuring excerpts from conversations with the grand prize winners of the 2021 eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards program, sponsored by Trox. See below for the full interview.

Here, eSchool News highlights the Navajo Preparatory School–one of three K-12 Hero Awards winners. Keep reading this interview with Sean C. Bekis, the school’s Network Administrator, to discover how school leaders did whatever they needed to do to get students connected to reliable internet and other vital resources during the pandemic.

eSN: Tell us a bit about your situation.

SB: So Navajo Prep is located in Farmington, New Mexico, which is Northwest New Mexico, kind of on the Eastern border of the Navajo reservation, which kind of goes into Arizona parts of Utah. It’s a big, big area established in 1991 under Navajo Nation corporation code as a nonprofit organization. So the campus is 82 acres school and we’re basically classified as a grant school with federal funding pursuant to legislative sanctioned by the Navajo Nation. We do have residential halls on here on our campus—they make up a good majority of our student body but we also have day students, who come from towns nearby here. 

eSN: When it comes to providing remote internet service for your students, you guys don’t mess around!

SB: So basically our campus network extended all the way into Arizona and three other states. So all the students had their hotspots and their laptops at home, of course. And you know, the kids really helped a lot. They really did all they could to try to meet us halfway, to try to get through it, to finish up that school year. Some kids were going on top of their houses just to get a cellular signal with those hotspots, just to download emails, just to upload their homework. Or they would drive out to the dirt road where the highway actually is to try to find that signal where they could send an email or download a message or whatever they needed to do for school. We still had some students where we had to send out flash drives like back to the old Sneakernet days. There were just some situations where we couldn’t push software. 

eSN: Do you anticipate keeping these new hybrid/remote models going forward?

SB: I think so. We had reached out to a lot of the other cellular vendors on the reservation. Some of them had their own proprietary cellular stuff. So we did buy a lot of that. We mounted cellular antennas on some of the student houses that were still picking up a decent enough signal, but not getting enough for video. We also went out to those remote sites and installed cellular repeaters and antennas on rooftops so they could at least Zoom.

So a lot of that stuff, we did kind of see the benefits of it. And when we rolled out this school year, while we are able to do on-campus learning, we are still offering remote students classes as well. We’ve installed video conference equipment in all of our teacher’s classrooms on campus. So they’re all able to pull up how HD video—there are microphones, arrays, nice speakers. So the students that are remote can hear and see the classroom, you know, just like if they’re, if they’re there, so all that stuff’s all ready to go. And I’m pretty sure we’re still going to keep it. We gave out all the same hot to the students that they had last year. So they have them available for all the remote stuff. Even if they’re on-campus or if they’re a residential student here, we still made sure they have it available to communities just in case for this year. But I think going forward we’ll probably for sure still have that, make it available for them, so that they’re always connected now. 

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