NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A project years in the making is in its final stretch of construction. Soon, it will help students and communities across the state have internet access.

“I am just amazed at the opportunities that this is going to provide our students and our communities and how we are going to be able to contribute to the connectivity of our communities,” said Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) Superintendent Christie Abeyta.

Santa Fe Indian School is taking a big step in helping tribes and students connect to the internet.

“My experiences through COVID were basically like any other SFIS student or even any student from a Pueblo community. A lot of us had limited access to the internet, and a lot of us had to look for other resources in order to log onto classes and submit work,” said SFIS senior Taven Vallo.

Students throughout the pandemic, and more recently, struggled with to finishing their schoolwork because they didn’t have internet at home. However, that will soon change.

Abeyta added, “This is important and more so significant to our future. The students now and the students yet to come, not only the Santa Fe Indian School Students, but all of the Pueblo communities.”

It’s called the Santa Fe Indian School Pueblo Education Network. The project has been in the works since 2015. There are three phases of the project, according to the school. The first phase, which is already completed, connected internet from Albuquerque to Jemez Pueblo. Phase 2 was funded by the state, connecting SFIS to Albuquerque.

Now, they are heading into their last phase. Phase 3 will connect 324 miles from Albuquerque to Isleta Pueblo, Acoma, and Zuni Pueblo. It was funded by $57 million in federal grants.

On top of improving internet access, the school said the network will also help strengthen its Native language program. Students at SFIS often stay on campus for their education, but they miss out on important cultural engagement at home.

“We found innovative ways utilizing internet, zoom, virtual learning platforms, to connect the community. Whether it’s elders, tribal leaders, people in the community who can share and offer new teachings to our students,” said Abeyta. “That build is really important for Santa Fe Indian School and our communities, our 19 pueblos, and other tribes as we begin to see all of these opportunities come to fruition.”

Story continues below

The network helps strengthen connections between tribal schools, libraries, and other organizations across the state.

“We’re resilient. It doesn’t matter what gets thrown at us. We’re always going to find a resource or find a way to benefit from any issue that’s going on within our tribes or whatever we’re facing,” said Vallo.

Organizers of the program hope the work will be completed by 2025.