EDINBURG, Texas – If Rio Grande Valley parents cannot pay their light bill, how are their children going to be able to access the Internet to do the remote learning expected of them?

This was one of the questions posed by Dr. Rodney H. Rodriguez, senior director for RGV Focus, during a recent webinar hosted by Teach for America-Rio Grande Valley.

The webinar was titled, “How can education and workforce development lead to a strong RGV post-COVID-19?” One of the topics that came up was the digital divide. 

Rodriguez said his nonprofit has applied to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funds to pay for computer equipment and wifi in underserved areas.

“Can our families pay the light, can they pay the rent, are they able to put food on the table?” Rodriguez said. “It is great and dandy that we are going to have this high-tech equipment but if people cannot pay their light, how are you going to access this equipment? Keep in mind, that is going to be a huge challenge moving forward.

Other speakers on the webinar included Julian Alvarez III, the Texas Workforce Commission’s commissioner for labor, and state Sen. Juan Hinojosa. Veronica Gonzales, vice president for governmental and community relations at UT-Rio Grande Valley, was the moderator.

There were also appearances by Jonathan Stevens, managing director of Teach for America-RGV, Ana Gonzalez, the nonprofit’s executive director, and attorney Deborah Cordova, a member of Teach for America-RGV’s advisory panel.

In addition to the digital divide, the topics discussed included the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the world of education, strengthening the pipeline between high schools and colleges, mental health, and the proactive nature of the Valley’s educational institutions. 

“It is so unfortunate the pandemic hit when it did because we were on a very good trajectory with all the opportunities that are here now in the Rio Grande Valley. We cannot allow this to slow us down,” said Gonzales.

Sen. Hinojosa said Valley students can compete against those from other parts of the country, pointing out that the region’s best and brightest are accepted by Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown. 

“This is where the action is and for us, we are switching over from an agriculture-based economy to one of healthcare professions, education, advanced manufacturing,” Hinojosa said, pointing out that the Valley’s average age is younger than other regions in the country. He said this is a big plus.

“You can tell the growth is here. The action is here, the leadership is here. And we have the students that want to learn and be educated. We have to put all that together and we are doing that,” Hinojosa said.

In his closing remarks, Alvarez urged educators to listen to industry. 

“How about training these high school kids, as we are going to be doing at DHR; were are going to be busing high school kids to learn how to repair and maintain equipment at the hospital with COVID relief funding that we received from the federal government. The only condition is after they go through the training, that DHR hire them. That is a win-win,” Alvarez said.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story and podcast shows Rodney H. Rodriguez.

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