With the recent shift to eLearning due to COVID-19, students at our highest needs schools are in jeopardy of falling behind in their studies because of a lack of adequate Wi-Fi preventing them from accessing their learning platforms. To help bridge the drastic digital divide for the most vulnerable students in Hillsborough County, Hillsborough Education Foundation is providing Wi-Fi devices and online access to students in need.
“If they are completely isolated from school and don’t have access to their teacher and these learning platforms, students will digress in their learning and we will have an even more profound issue once we start next school year,” said Hillsborough Education Foundation CEO Kim Jowell. “We’re trying to close that gap and give them access and hopefully allow them to continue on their learning path and using the skills that they have been building.”
With the support of donors such as Amgen Foundation and PwC Charitable Foundation, HEF has purchased 350 Wi-Fi hotspots that are currently being distributed to families, and an additional 650 hotspots have been ordered to help meet the growing demand. According to Jowell, these hotspots will help level the playing field for all students to be able to access eLearning, including those who may lack resources.
“We were really concerned, especially for our most vulnerable students who didn’t have access, so we put together a Digital Equity Team to try to solve this problem,” Jowell said. “We’re thankful for partners who have stepped up to fund our ability to get 1,000 Wi-Fi devices that will have unlimited access to data for the remainder of the school year.”
Though Hillsborough Education Foundation will initially focus on distributing the hotspots to students at the district’s 50 Achievement Schools, after their needs are met, the Foundation will expand operations to include other Hillsborough County Title I schools.
Burney Elementary School Principal Connie Chisholm said the additional support from HEF could not have come at a better time for some of her students who have been missing out on critical teacher-led instruction because they do not have Wi-Fi access.
“The biggest concern is those students are solely doing paper/pencil, and that’s not like having a teacher in front of you actually teaching you, so this gives them access to that teacher-directed instruction,” Chisholm said. “I’m amazed at the partnership between Hillsborough Education Foundation and the schools to help us with this. This will totally make a difference for them. You stepped in right in time. Thank you. We really appreciate it.”
In collaboration with Hillsborough County Public Schools, Hillsborough Education Foundation has coordinated distribution of the Wi-Fi hotspots at various school sites as well as the Hillsborough Education Foundation office.
Though some families have already begun receiving the hotspots, Jowell said she understands there is still more work to be done and Hillsborough Education Foundation will continue to address the growing need for digital resources and online access for all students.
“We think we’ll definitely run out of Wi-Fi hotspots by the time we serve all of them, but we will try to keep making sure that every student has the access they need,” Jowell said. “We’re getting them out via the school sites for them to give to parents and students, they can come here to the Foundation, or if they’re not able to travel we’ll figure out a way to get these to them— whatever it takes.”
To support our mission to strengthen public education, and help level the playing field for students who are at risk of falling behind in their studies due to digital inequities enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic, make a donation today at EducationFoundation.com/Donate.