Montana Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Steve Bullock on Thursday stopped for a visit at West Valley School to meet with student ambassadors, talk about education and highlight progress made throughout the state to upgrade broadband in schools.
“Welcome back to school again,” Bullock said to a group of fifth- through eighth-graders who were attending their second day of the new school year.
“I think one of the most important things that the state can provide, in conjunction with your teachers and everybody else, is a quality education,” Bullock said — in addition to passing a law ensuring a longer recess, he joked, as students voiced their approval.
“At some point you’ll be the principals, the superintendents, or the business leaders, or the governors and that’s why we need to make sure we’re providing you everything that you need at each level to ensure that you can someday be the leaders of your communities and the state,” Bullock continued.
In providing a quality 21st-century education, he said students need access to the tools to set them up for success, not just in school, but down the line, in the economy. He said those tools include technology and internet access.
Since 2015, Montana has partnered with EducationSuperHighway to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband at Montana schools.
“We got state dollars through the Department of Commerce. We worked with this group EducationSuperHighway. We’re now at the point where 98 percent of our schools meet the FCC minimums for connectivity,” he said.
In the past year, 40 Montana schools upgraded infrastructure, including West Valley School, which installed fiber-optic lines and doubled their bandwidth. In 2016, West Valley School had 30 megabits per second of internet connection. The school has since upgraded to 200 megabits per second.
“Imagine going from a garden hose to a fire hose,” West Valley Superintendent Cal Ketchum said. “You don’t have the wait time to do something in class.”
Ketchum said the improvements have resulted in a cost savings. He said the school is saving about $50 on its monthly internet bill.
Bullock shared with students the technology he used when he left for college — an electric typewriter — to some student laughter.
“Can you imagine that? But the point is that’s what you needed to prepare for college and today we’re in a completely different world where a typewriter would be in a museum. [You] have more stuff on your phone than we had on computers growing up. Technology is driving so many of the opportunities and also so many of the ways you can now learn,” Bullock said.
Later on, Bullock opened the floor to questions from the students. Questions ranged from why he wanted to become governor to how many other schools he’s visited and if he’s met President Donald Trump. Students also wanted to know the type of car he drives and if he has pets.
Before the students left for class, he thanked them for taking on the leadership roles of student ambassadors, who learn and give lessons to other grade levels on topics such as culture, climate self-improvement and respect.
“Again, thanks for being ambassadors because each of you did not have to sign up for this, right, nobody made you do it, but somewhere deep inside you knew you had something that you could contribute to your fellow classmates,” Bullock said. “So be proud of that and take that experience and pay it forward.”
Regarding his presidential campaign, Bullock heads back to Iowa next week where he said he plans to participate in meet-and-greet type events and make more connections before the February caucuses.
Bullock was asked if he’d consider dropping his presidential run if he didn’t do well in Iowa — and run for U.S. Senate.
“I think we have good people running, but it won’t be me,” Bullock said. “I’m not going to run for senate.”
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.