PHARR, Texas – The Rio Grande Valley Partnership kicks off a new series of webinars focused on education today. The series is called Education Initiatives.

The first one starts at 10 a.m. and features Tom Torkelson, founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools, and Jorge L. Arredondo, superintendent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD.

“The Rio Grande Valley continues to excel with its great schools, its educational attainment levels and programs. We must ensure this continues,” said Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of RGVP.

“So, we are honored to have CEO Tom Torkelson from IDEA and Superintendent Jorge Arredondo from PSJA to start our series.”

Contreras acknowledged that as with other sectors of society, the world of education has been turned on its head by the coronavirus pandemic. All schools are shut and students are having to be taught through distance learning. Contreras said he is looking forward to learning how that is going.

“With schools currently out because of the coronavirus and students having to learn remotely, we plan to have a conversation on how schools are communicating with the students, what support the students are getting, and what best practices are being implemented.”

One issue Contreras and the RGV Partnership cares deeply about is how those students who do not have access to the Internet at home are faring during the current lockdown. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, three of the metropolitan statistical areas that suffer most from the “digital divide” are those Laredo MSA, MCAllen MSA and Brownsville MSA.

“A component of the conversation we will have with these webinars on education will be the digital divide, on how we can improve access to broadband and the ensure our students have the equipment needed in their homes to get online,” Contreras said.

IDEA and PSJA are among the Valley schools pushing hard to ensure the digital divide is closed. A few years ago PSJA embarked on a pilot program with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the City of Pharr to secure internet access for students in Las Milpas. IDEA has launched a fundraising campaign to purchase more mobile computer devices and mount a lobbying effort in Washington D.C. to secure funding to provide broadband in underserved areas.

Contreras said the RGVP intends to engage with the Valley legislative delegation on some of the initiatives it learns about from its education webinars. “Our legislators have to be part of the conversation,” he said.

And he said higher education institutions will not be left out of the equation. “We plan to include our higher education partners in this series, linking them with workforce development entities and industry. It is going to be an exciting series.”

Editor’s Note: Those wishing to participate in the Torkelson-Arredondo webinar must register in advance. Click here to register.

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