August
31
2016

Ensuring Access and Opportunity; Supporting At Home Connectivity

By Tom 0

According to a report released by the Pew Research Center, approximately 5 of the 29 million households with school-aged children lack access to high quality broadband internet while at home. The research indicates that almost one-third of households whose incomes fall below $50,000 and with children ages 6 to 17 do not have a high-speed internet connection. The data also makes it evident that low-income households – especially our black and Hispanic families – make up a disproportionate percentage of the 5 million families without access. Coined “The Homework Gap,” this means that many of the children sitting in our classrooms lose connectivity the moment they step off of our campus. At a time where approximately 70% of our nation’s teachers are requiring some sort of digital work outside the school walls, this places many of our students that are most in need at a severe disadvantage. How does your school handle this issue?

Equity in opportunity isn’t something that solely affects our nation’s school children. The need for connectivity to become a productive member of society has skyrocketed since the beginning of this century. Whether it’s continuing education, applying for a job, or access to the world’s information, the ability to connect is vital for economic opportunity. As such, the Federal government, the FCC, and other organizations have partnered to support those most in need. 

ConnectHome
In the summer of 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Obama Administration launched a follow up to its ConnectED Initiative, deemed “ConnectHome”. This initiative works to join communities, the private sector, and the federal government to expand high-speed broadband to more than 275,000 low-income households; in an effort to support nearly 200,000 of our nation’s children living in HUD-assisted housing across the nation. The goals of ConnectHome are to: (1) Make broadband Internet more adoptable; (2) Make broadband Internet more valuable; and (3) Make broadband Internet adoption sustainable. From Newark, New Jersey, to Los Angeles, California, groups are working to provide high speed access in federally funded housing areas.

The Lifeline Program
In 1985, the Lifeline Program was created to provide a substantial discount on phone service for low-income Americans. At that time, the goal of the program was to “ensure that all Americans had the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services.” To participate in the program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in one of a number of government assistance programs. In the spring of 2016, the FCC voted to modernize the program to include broadband services for low income families. This came at a time when 43% of the nation’s poorest families indicated that they couldn’t afford such services. For the first time, these families will be offered stand-alone broadband services, as well as bundled voice and data service packages, bringing them needed 21st century connectivity. The modernization also unlocked a broadband marketplace to attract additional providers and increase competition to benefit the consumer. Although not specifically designed for families with school aged children, the Lifeline Program and modernization brings additional home access to millions of our nation’s school children. The release of the program is anticipated in December 2016. For more on how your district can support students’ at home access, visit FCC.gov.

Districts Leading the Way
As districts work locally to close this gap, some are rising to the top when it comes to innovative connectivity practices. The leadership in these districts have prioritized this issue and are working to grant connectivity to their students round the clock.

Albemarle County Public Schools, Virginia
In possibly the most robust example that I’ve seen, the team in Albemarle County Public Schools is creating their own 4G Wifi network throughout their county. Their motto of “All Means All”, combined with innovative thinking from CIO Vince Scheivert, Superintendent Pam Moran and others, Albemarle will be able to provide all families in their county with free wifi access at home by the summer of 2019 as they continue to build out their countywide network; an incredible accomplishment and support for student learning.

Coachella Valley Unified District, California
Coachella Valley Unified School District in California is a district where 100% of the students quality for free and reduced lunch. It’s also known as one of the poorest areas in the United States. Superintendent Darryl Adams has helped put the at-home connectivity issue on the map nationwide. Many of Adams’s students ride the bus for over an hour each way. Simply putting wifi on buses was not enough for Adams, as when students got home, they would completely lose connectivity in this southwestern desert community. After noticing that students would park around the district office on the weekends to gain connectivity, Adams began to pilot wifi on his buses, but not just for the transportation to/from school. Adams parked the district’s buses enabled with wifi in the poorest neighborhoods overnight so that students could remain connected while at home. When the router batteries began losing their charge after a few hours, solar panels were added to extend connectivity throughout the night. A program that has been highlighted by President Obama, began as a pilot with two buses and will reach all 90 of the district’s buses by project’s end.

Kent School District, Washington
In Kent School District, equal online access for all students was made a formal priority. As part of the district’s Student Technology, Access, and Resources (STAR) Initiative, wifi enabled kiosks are placed throughout the community in convenient locations such as apartment complexes, community centers, laundromats, and church lobbies, to support both student and parent access. Students are able to complete classwork and parents are able to stay up-to-date on student progress at these free kiosk locations. Furthermore, the kiosks broadcast wifi up to 150 feet, where students can access the school network on district-issued devices, further decreasing the connectivity gap.

Spartanburg School District Seven, South Carolina
Seven Ignites, the technology-focused website of Spartanburg Seven, gives community businesses direct access to becoming a D7 Wifi Hotspot Partner, in an effort to help the district close its connectivity gap. With such a partnership, students are able to use the district’s wifi hotspot map, to seek out locations for free connectivity. Spartanburg School District Seven then shares their wifi map with their community in an effort to help families get the connectivity that they need.

Yet with all of the work by the FCC, the White House, and many national organizations, many of our children remain disconnected while at home – a sad reality and disadvantage when it’s predicted that 77% of jobs will require digital skills by 2020.

How will your district ensure that those that remain unconnected receive the needed access and opportunity?

Resources to Support Home Connectivity:

All for the kids we serve,
Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.12.11 PM

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