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Kids at one Baton Rouge school to get the bandwidth they need for remote learning, work-study program

“When this first happened even just getting your hands on a hotspot was difficult. Everyone in America needed one.”

Baton Rouge, Louisiana (February 23, 2021)Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School approaches education a little differently than other schools.

Ariel Winn Is A Sophomore Who Is Still Remoting In For School  776x1024

Ariel Winn, who is a sophomore at the school, takes part in remote learning.

“It’s a unique model. We are one of 37 Cristo Rey schools nationwide,” said Eric Engemann, President. “We not only have a rigorous college prep curriculum, but we also have a corporate work-study program that students take part in one day a week from the first week they start as freshmen.”

The corporate partners place the students in a wide range of positions—spanning health care to law offices to government jobs.

“It’s very broad,” said Engemann. “It’s an awesome opportunity to get these students into new industries and expose them early on in their education to the workplace.”

What makes the school even more important, perhaps, is that it serves young people with limited economic means. Support from corporate work-study program partners helps to offset tuition and make Cristo Rey accessible and affordable for any family.

In March 2020, Cristo Rey’s faculty started to prepare as they saw schools elsewhere closing—knowing Louisiana’s governor could shut down the state at any moment. The staff made sure each student had a remote learning device.

But, when teachers finally had to transition to virtual classrooms, they quickly learned some students had limited to no access to broadband at home. 

“It takes a lot more bandwidth to function on a video platform all day long. Day in, day out, it’s been a challenge,” said Engemann. “We had a limited number of hotspots at our disposal that we could provide to the students who needed them, but when this first happened even just getting your hands on a hotspot was difficult. Everyone in America needed one.”

So, the school turned to the AT&T K-12 homework gap program for help—and recently learned it will be receiving the 45 hotspots its students still desperately need. AT&T will also provide free wireless internet access. 

Connected Nation, a national nonprofit working for innovative solutions to expand broadband to all people, is overseeing the program, which was made possible through a $10 million commitment from AT&T.

“What makes this program so important is that it seeks to serve those students who are most at risk and all too often overlooked,” said Brent Legg, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, at Connected Nation. “And what really spoke to our team about the work being done at Cristo Rey is that the staff and administration is not only providing a good education for these students, but they are preparing them for careers in a way that will help them thrive while giving them meaningful work experiences.”

It’s having an impact. There are 124 awardees in the program that spans 26 states—representing 81 school districts and 43 nonprofits. In total, 35,000 hotspots will be given to programs that help at-risk students across the country.

“The big deal is getting these into the hands of these students, and I’m grateful for this program for helping us do that as soon as possible,” said Engemann.

He adds the hotspots will help improve the consistency of communication between staff and students, which he says is “key” to their future success.

“Our teachers have talked about how tough it is to manage a classroom when multiple things are coming and going out, and someone wants to respond but they can’t. Students also, understandably, get frustrated and will just sign out,” he said. “Having these additional hotspots will not only help us ensure classes aren’t so challenging now but also help us address how we help those kids who have some academic loss or have fallen behind during this difficult time.”

To learn more about Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, head to the school’s website: