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San Juan School District Internet Project Has Connected Around A Third Of Navajo Student Homes, Despite Delays

A technician sets up a radio receiver on a tower.
Kate Groetzinger
/
KUER
A technician sets up a radio receiver on a tower in Halchita. The district built out around 100 towers as part of the internet network project.

The San Juan School District is still working on getting internet access to all of its students on the Navajo Nation. The project was supposed to be completed by the summer, but it ran into some delays.

The school district received $3.9 million from state lawmakers last year to build out the network. It involved standing up a number of large radio towers, as well as installing radio receivers on every student’s home.

Almost all 525 homes have receivers at this point, according to the school district’s I.T. director, Aaron Brewer. But only about a third are active, according to Brewer, because two of the main radio towers still need power.

“We have to get the power to these spots, or we’re just spitting in the wind basically,” Brewer said.

He said the district is waiting on the Navajo Nation’s utility service to connect the towers which he expects will happen sometime this summer. The tribal utility authority did not respond to KUER’s request for information about the towers.

A photo of a map.
The school district’s IT department created an interactive map to show which homes are active.

For those who have been able to get on the network, like Samantha Mose, it’s been a game changer.

She works at the high school in Monument Valley, where her son is entering his junior year.

“The biggest improvement was that he was able to actually get on and do meetings and Google Meets and that stuff,” Mose said. “I mean I was surprised with how great it worked in my home.”

The network has also made it possible for her son to do online courses this summer, so he can get ahead in school.

“Because he is able to get his classes done, in senior year he can take college courses that the high school will pay for,” she said.

Coerina Fife is the principal at Monument Valley High School. She said students on the Navajo Nation in Utah will likely be able to return to school in person next year. But the internet at home will still be a benefit.

“The district has adopted the Canvas program, where everything will be online,” she said. “So students can access material even when they’re at home.”

Brewer said the district has asked the state school board for around $1.7 million to maintain the network for five years. That includes installing receivers on new students’ homes as well as removing them from homes when students graduate.

The state school board did not respond to a KUER inquiry about the funding request.

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