Children living in poverty will get a free lift across the digital divide

About 275,000 families in the U.S., including more than 6,000 in San Antonio, will get free high-speed home Internet under ConnectHome, a demonstration project announced July 15 by President Barack Obama and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

“America’s challenge in this 21st century is to remain the world’s undisputed land of opportunity," said Castro. "By expanding broadband adoption, ConnectHome will provide more Americans with the same high-speed access to knowledge and opportunity that millions of people already enjoy.”

The program, being rolled out in 27 other cities and in the Choctaw Tribal Nation, could increase high school graduation rates by up to 8 percent among low-income children, Castro said during a news conference (see video below).

The White House Council of Economic Advisors simultaneously issued a report on the digital divide and its effects: See that report here. The report showed that almost two thirds of the nation's poorest residents own a computer, but fewer than half have Internet access at home.

The report paints a graphic picture of the digital divide in San Antonio:

Digital Divide in San Antonio

“Providing the bandwidth inside of public housing residents’ homes opens up a whole new world for them, not only for children, but for parents,” said Angela Johnson, spokeswoman for the San Antonio Housing Authority. “We’re glad to be a part of it.”Angela Johnson SAHA

San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez said his district has 4,600 families in public housing who will benefit from this program. “With 70 percent of families that live in public housing in our district, this is a big deal,” Martinez said.

He said SAISD and the community are finding ways to get students devices from tablets to laptops, but struggle with connectivity. “If children don’t have the means to connect to the Internet, frankly, they are just shut out,” he said.

Data plans are prohibitively expensive for low-income families, leaving many students unable to watch instructional videos and access online educational applications at home.Pedro Martinez

In SAISD, 93 percent of students qualify for free lunch, a statistic that has consequences. “What we see is an achievement gap that correlates very heavily with poverty,” he said.

At the same time, the best way to get out of poverty is a quality education.

“That’s why developments like this are so important,” Martinez said. “We’re trying to aggressively implement technology in our buildings, but we’re always worried about what happens when the children go home. We want the learning to continue when they go home.”

Ramiro Salazar San Antonio  Public Library

San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro Salazar said the American Library Association was involved in planning ConnectHome and is leading a collaboration with local libraries in all the ConnectHome communities to deliver digital literacy programming to public housing residents.

Salazar said the library offers connectivity and digital literacy training at its 28 facilities every day and is “developing strategies to target public housing residents and especially students.”

He said digital literacy means helping people use the technology “and be able to navigate the Internet, finding appropriate information, accurate information and reliable information,” 

The initiative is a collaboration of groups including: 

  • Best Buy, which will offer students free after school technical training
  • College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer students and families in HUD housing in all ConnectHome communities free, online SAT practice resources, and contribute $200,000 over three years to fund digital literacy and personalized college readiness
  • 80/20 Foundation will provide $100,000 to fund digital literacy training in San Antonio
  • Age of Learning, Inc. will make its online early learning curriculum available, for free
  • The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will produce and distribute new educational, children’s, and digital literacy content via participating local PBS stations tailored for ConnectHome participants
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America will provide digital literacy training for HUD residents in ConnectHome communities that have a Boys & Girls Club