SAN FRANCISCO, May 21, 2020—With 12 million students in the United States without access to the internet or a tablet or laptop at home, schools forced to shift to online learning during the coronavirus pandemic are helping students connect to Wi-Fi in parking lots, delivering work packets to doorsteps, dropping off hot spots to homeless families, and providing instruction via public television or local newspapers. Teachers who themselves don't have high-speed access are sitting in their cars outside stores or buildings with Wi-Fi to create and send their lesson plans and meet with students online.
Common Sense is collecting and sharing these powerful stories of teachers and families through a new interactive state map with more than 150 stories from 39 states, to illustrate the breadth of the problem as part of its Connect All Students campaign. The campaign aims to encourage lawmakers to include direct funding in the next emergency stimulus bill for broadband internet and devices.
The connectivity issue was a serious problem before the coronavirus pandemic, but with more than 50 million children finishing the school year from home and facing the prospect of continuing distance learning this summer and into the next school year, the consequences are even more dire. Without equal access to vital online learning and internet connectivity, they are being left behind their peers.
"My students cannot possibly receive the same level of instruction as those with devices and the internet. My students cannot possibly compete in our society when they are not given a level playing field through no fault of their own," said Bianca, an elementary school teacher in Colorado.
"I am not a teacher, but work in a program for first-gen, disadvantaged youth in a rural setting. Our governor has provided hot spots in parking lots. However, many of these students' families don't have a car to get to the parking lot, nor a device for the students to work on," said Jim, who works with middle and high school students in Arizona.
"For some of our students, access to the internet and devices has been a true challenge. I've been making paper copies of assignments and dropping off at students' homes along with chapter books, school supplies, and food and snack bags. I've mailed some along with self-addressed, stamped envelopes for returning the completed work," said Miguelina, a middle school teacher in Florida. "My team and I are also constantly contacting parents and students by phone. Some students even take pictures of completed assignments and email them to us—whatever it takes to keep them learning and connected to their teachers and friends!"
Find the full map with more quotes and statistics here.
The map is the latest in the #ConnectAllStudents campaign by Common Sense to close the digital divide and make sure every family has equal access to broadband. The campaign taps into Common Sense Education's powerful network of more than 910,000 registered educators to gather teacher and student experiences of the digital divide at www.commonsensemedia.org/connect-all-students.
In March, Common Sense launched Wide Open School, a collection of learning resources and a daily schedule for pre-K through high school. But without internet access, students can't use the resources. Teachers want connectivity, and so do leaders in tech, media, and education. Last week the American Federation of Teachers, Amplify, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Everyone On, GoNoodle, Khan Academy, Land O' Lakes, Lego, Mozilla, the National Head Start Association, Newsela, Noggin, Playworks, Remind, Salesforce, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, and the Southern Education Foundation joined Common Sense in a public message to Congress to close the digital divide to ensure access for all students.
The digital divide exacerbates economic inequality and lack of opportunity, and it curtails access to health care and pandemic information, applying for critical benefits, and job training, just at a time when people desperately need to be connected.
"Students and families should not have to struggle for basic access to devices and broadband in the 21st century. Technology and all it has to offer should be accessible to everyone, for learning and to stay safe as we shelter at home," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense, the leading nonprofit organization whose mission is to help kids, families, and educators thrive in a world of media and technology. "Teachers are on the front lines trying their best to help our kids. Congress must step in now to solve this problem, before students lose more of the education they need to succeed."
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