Wired for success: How tiny Navajo Technical University took big steps to keep students connected

The college experience has been reduced to the size of a computer monitor on many college campuses this fall. In an effort to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, more than 1,000 colleges and universities are fully or heavily relying on virtual learning, including schools on the Navajo Nation – where internet access is notoriously scarce. 

How can online learning succeed in a place where students aren’t wired? For the answer, Searchlight turned to Colleen Bowman, the provost at Navajo Technical University, a small school that’s taken major steps to keep students connected. Based in Crownpoint, on the plains northeast of Gallup, NTU was founded in 1979 as the Navajo Skill Center and has since expanded to four satellite campuses. This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.

State passes 27,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and announces two additional deaths

On Wednesday, state health officials announced 119 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number over 27,000 since the start of the pandemic, and two additional deaths related to the disease. The state Department of Health announcement found double-digit numbers of new cases in seven counties, led by Lea County with 16, followed by Roosevelt County (15), Eddy County (14), Bernalillo County (14), Chaves County (10), San Juan County (10) and Santa Fe County (10). DOH also reported another case among state Corrections Department inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Center in Valencia County. The two newly reported deaths were both among southern New Mexico residents, a male in his 60s from Doña Ana County and a female in her 60s from Lea County with underlying conditions. Both were hospitalized.

Conservationists hope Caja del Rio will benefit from fire’s regenerative effects

On a dry and dusty afternoon in August, a white hot bolt of lightning zipped down from a thunderhead to the parched land below, sparking the dry grass of the Caja del Rio plateau. A few hours later, acres of land on the plateau were aflame and thick black smoke was billowing up from the landscape as the wildfire grew. 

At the time, the Forest Service was already battling the Medio Fire, a larger wildfire burning northwest of Santa Fe in the Santa Fe National Forest. Early reports based on aerial surveillance estimated the Caja del Rio fire had burned 600 acres of land, but the Forest Service later revised the fire’s footprint down to 158 acres. One week later, the Caja del Rio fire was considered contained, while the Medio Fire still raged some 30 miles north. It would take another three weeks before that fire was fully contained. 

The Medio Fire, which burned some 4,000 acres, returned attention to the impacts of climate change on New Mexico’s landscape, and the role of wildfire in forest management.

Seven newly reported deaths, 82 new cases

On Tuesday, state health officials reported seven additional deaths related to COVID-19 along with 82 new cases. The most new cases reported by the state Department of Health were from Bernalillo County, 17, followed by McKinley County with 12. No other county reported double digit numbers of cases. 

But the state reported another 4 cases in the Lea County Correctional Facility, a day after reporting 11 cases. COVID-19 cases have spread quickly throughout correctional facilities in New Mexico and in other states in the past. The seven newly reported deaths came a day after DOH reported no additional deaths.

USDA crop insurance program cuts benefits to Rio Arriba farmers, acequia-irrigated lands

Last summer, the land where Rio Arriba county rancher Tony Casados grows hay for his cattle produced a bounty. He cut more than four tons from each acre. But this year, he’s seeing just over half a ton per acre. “I’m 74 years old, and in all my years of farming I have not seen a worse year than this year,” Casados said. “We have the acequias, but there’s no water in them.