Initiative’s last act funds digital navigator

Low-income students were helped with remote learning

PORT TOWNSEND — The Connected Students Initiative, in its last act before closing, has donated $35,000 to Jefferson County Library District to help fund its digital equity navigator position.

Jamie Pena is now a local community resource available to assist in helping understand the various subsidies for internet connectivity, applications for low-income access, and general technology usage and education.

“I love the work and really enjoy working with the community and seeing the difference this assistance can make for students and adults who need some help getting across the technical divide these days,” Pena said.

The Connected Students Initiative (CSI) was begun at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help supply internet connectivity for low-income students in Jefferson County through a grant from the Jefferson Community Foundation’s COVID relief funds.

During the next 14 months, CSI worked with more than 160 local families across four school districts to provide cable, hotspot and satellite connections for students who needed to conduct their studies from home.

“The role was one-third technology, one-third administrator and one-third outreach coordinator,” said CSI project leader Ben Bauermeister, who added that, because the group was “small and nimble,” it was able to address the needs of the community quickly.

During the end of 2020 and into early 2021, the federal government was ready to offer assistance in the form of reimbursements to communities that already were helping local students.

Bauermeister applied for federal reimbursement for money spent on hardware and establishing cellular accounts.

By the 2022 school year, many new programs were available for schools to help connect low-income students and CSI was no longer needed.

So the Connected Student Initiative found another place for its remaining funds through discussions with county commissioners, the Jefferson Broadband Action Team (JBAT) and Tamara Meredith at the Jefferson County Library.

“We had seen the need in the community for assistance in better understanding the role of technology in our lives,” Meredith said.

“We just didn’t know how we could afford a new position, and yet the match to the work that CSI had been doing was a clear connection.”

With additional support and funding from Jefferson County and the Department of Commerce/ConnectWA Coalition, a two-year digital equity navigator position was opened and filled at the library.

The Connected Students Initiative is now closing its doors.

CSI was a program of StrongerTowns, a Jefferson County nonprofit incubator organization that also includes support for The Benji Project, Skillmation Mentoring, The Jefferson County Jobs and Trades Fair, The Production Alliance, YEA! Music, and most recently The Community Build program.

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