Author: Maureen Magee
Keneshia Johnson is among 250 students at Crawford High School to get a free mobile hotspot device and wireless Internet access under a pilot project that took effect Thursday.
It’s a big deal for the 17-year-old on a couple of fronts: It allows her to use her school-issued laptop at home for homework and even to surf YouTube at Netflix, and it will give her more time to sleep in the mornings.
“I usually get up extra early so I can get to school and log on my computer to finish up my homework,” said Keneshia, an eleventh-grader who gets to Crawford up to an hour before classes start at 7:15 each morning. “Now I can actually use my school laptop at home. My family is allowed to use it, too. ”
The San Diego Unified School District is part of a national project that gives free mobile hotspots to students whose family can’t afford Internet access at home.
Under a partnership Sprint, the 1Million Project aims to help curb the so-called “digital divide” that contributes to the achievement gap among student groups.
An estimated 5 million U.S. families with school-aged children have no internet access at home, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data. At the same time, roughly 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires web access, creating a “homework gap” that educators say puts these students at a disadvantage academically.
“It’s so easy to take Internet access for granted,” said Richard Lawrence, principal of Crawford, where 80 percent of the 1,100 students qualify for subsidized meals based on family income. “This program allows students to log on to computers to study at home or on a bus. It opens up access to a world of information for their parents, too.”
Sprint and the Sprint Foundation are working on the multi-year initiative to reach one million low-income students across the country by providing them with connectivity to use with school district-provided computers.
“We have heard some powerful and heart-wrenching stories from disadvantaged students about their efforts to find connectivity to keep up with their school assignments when they don’t have home Internet access,” said Kevin Kunkel, Sprint’s Regional President for Southern California.
San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten said the program compliments the district’s technology initiative that has put take-home laptops and other devices in the hands of 16,000 students in 44 schools this year, including every student in the elementary and middle schools that feed into Crawford in and around City Heights.
“We are recognizing what our students need and trying very hard to give it to them,” Marten said. “We want our students to be able to learn 24/7 and we want to give them access to modern learning tools.”
Giving students Internet access at home not only allows them to work on lessons from their regular classes, it allows them to study for online make-up classes offered at Crawford and better compete with online charter schools.
San Diego was chosen as one of the project’s 11 markets nationwide to pilot the Sprint initiative with 4,000 students. Educators will study the pilot program through the end of the school year in preparation for a full roll-out at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
The socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of San Diego Unified made it a good candidate for the project, officials said. Families with a household income of $40,000 or less are dramatically less likely to have broadband internet access at home, according to a recent report from the Public Policy Research Institute.
Schools and school districts that want to apply to participate in the program can visit www.sprint.com/1million project for more information.