Rep. Jimmy Panetta (standing) met with Cabrillo College students, faculty and executives Friday to discuss nearly $3 million in federal grants he helped keep the school secure. The funding is intended to enhance and expand Cabrillo’s hybrid learning offerings. (PK Hattis – Santa Cruz Sentinel)
APTOS – Rep. Jimmy Panetta met with Cabrillo College students, faculty and leaders Friday to celebrate millions of federal grants he has helped bolster the college’s efforts to bridge the digital divide for traditionally underserved students across the county to bridge.
The roundtable in Aptos included discussions and projected benefits of the nearly $3 million grant, particularly for low-income and Latino students. The money was provided through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act of 2021 and won through the Biden administration’s Connecting Minority Communities pilot program.
Joy Polanco O’Neil (center), director of Cabrillo College’s Teaching and Learning Center and distance learning coordinator, speaks with Rep. Jimmy Panetta (left) Friday during a roundtable discussion on the school’s development of hybrid learning. (PK Hattis – Santa Cruz Sentinel)
“I’m a community college graduate and I’ve seen what community colleges can do,” Panetta noted, promising to continue efforts to make community college free in all 50 states. “These types of grants can be bridges to certain vulnerable communities, to communities that need these types of investments, that need that bridge to that college, which can then be a bridge to their future.”
The funding is expected to have a particularly meaningful impact on the school’s ‘hyflex’ learning centers, which are designed to deliver high-quality educational experiences for students who are in-person as well as those tuning in remotely. to allow.
Jennifer Vered, Cabrillo’s department manager for computing applications and enterprise technology, says the need for hybrid learning has grown stronger in recent years in the context of overall technological advances and the COVID-19 pandemic that has made it a necessity.
Vered said a viable hybrid option offers opportunities for students who might otherwise not be able to attend for a variety of reasons, including transportation issues, health limitations, economic limitations or a lack of childcare.
“This scholarship will help us really expand that learning style as there are many challenges integrating the students who are online with the students who are sitting there in person,” Vered said. “I’m excited to see how this style of teaching develops.”
The panel also included the participation of some active Cabrillo students, including Tricia Davie, who came in with questions about how the school planned to ensure the benefits of distance learning are made available to low-income or homeless students.
“If you don’t even have access to a computer, how do you go about accessing this course online?” said Davie, adding that some of these students may also have trouble with transportation or finding a place to study at night, where they can charge their devices. “You’re really at a disadvantage in the beginning.”
According to a statement from Cabrillo College and Pajaro Valley Shelter Services, about 20%, or 2,200, of Cabrillo’s 11,000 students are homeless at least once a year.
Cabrillo President and Superintendent Matt Wetstein said the school has used state and federal COVID-19 funds to help meet costs for students in need, such as by allocating $40 per semester to Santa Cruz METRO rides.
Cabrillo also recently applied for government grants to build a 624-unit student housing complex on its Aptos campus as part of a joint venture with UC Santa Cruz, estimated to cost between $165 million and $180 million.
“These are people who live in our community, they certainly don’t have apartments or affordable housing in our county,” Wetstein said. “It was so crucial to get this funding from the state for these apartments.”
Wetstein said Cabrillo hasn’t heard of a final funding decision, but he’s “crossing his fingers.”
In addition to the previously raised $2.9 million in federal broadband funding, Panetta announced Friday that it has also secured approximately $163,500 in additional federal funding for the school, which will help improve learning spaces on both the Aptos and be used on the Watsonville campus.
Additionally, $64 billion has been secured in the 2021 infrastructure bill for broadband deployment efforts in underserved communities across the country, according to Panetta. While maps of how the funds are being distributed are being drawn, Panetta said he is simultaneously working with partners in the state Legislature to ensure a significant portion of state funds are made available to the 19th Circuit, which he represents and which serves the South Shore of the county embraces and includes Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo Valley.
“It’s going to depend on the area, the people, the population … but I think it’s also going to depend on need,” Panetta said of the state-by-state fund allocation process. “Considering how big California is and how rural it is, there’s going to be a lot of need. Hopefully we get a big number.”