City makes another stride in providing online learning

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The City of Philadelphia is making a push to help all students make the grade through online learning.

An initiative called “PHLConnectED” aims to provide internet and technical support to students from low-income families for the upcoming school year.

It comes as part of the city’s response to schools moving into virtual learning phases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is hoping to help about 35,000 low-income student households from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“The digital divide is an inequity that presents a significant barrier to our goal of helping all students in every neighborhood reach their full academic potential,” said William R. Hite Jr., superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. “So, we at the School District of Philadelphia are pleased to see the City, legislators and business leaders come together to launch PHLConnectED, a program we believe can close the divide and allow for all students to have the access they need, especially now as we prepare for 100 percent digital learning to start the 2020-2021 school year next month.”

The program is designed to prioritize families with the greatest need for the internet. The first phase is focused on connecting student households without internet access or those who only have mobile phone access or are homeless or housing insecure. Households are currently being identified by the school district, Charter Schools Office, other schools and internet service providers.

“Our goal is to identify and implement affordable, simple and reliable digital access solutions for all our residents,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “By focusing on K-12 student households now, we can have an immediate impact in bridging the digital divide, especially to support distance learning for the upcoming school year.”

Eligible households will be contacted by their school directly through regular mail, email, phone calls or text messages later this month. More information will be updated at phila.gov/PHLConnectED.

The first phase of the initiative will cost $17.1 million, with $2 million funded by the city through the CARES Act. More than $11 million has been raised through philanthropic efforts. The remaining costs will be shared among the School District, charter, Independent Mission and private schools as well as other donations. Individuals interested in contributing to this effort are invited to donate at www.mayorsfundphila.org/initiatives/phlconnected/.

“One of the biggest challenges our school communities faced this spring was connectivity, and that boils down to equity,” said Jerry Jordan, president, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “In a commonwealth that is fraught with educational inequity, it is incumbent upon all of us to be relentless in our pursuit of justice. The commitment made today to ensure that our students have access to the internet should be commended, and is a welcome step forward. Our students will be depending on access this fall so that, in these trying times, they are able to connect with their educators and their peers while staying healthy at home.”

Components will include free wired, high-speed, reliable broadband internet to the home, or a high-speed mobile hotspot for families.

It will also include the distribution of electronic devices, such as Chromebooks, tablets or computers, as well as free skills training and tech support for students, families and teachers.

“This initiative to expand reliable internet access to thousands of Philadelphians will open new doors of opportunities,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “Equitable access is critical for students to build the digital skills they need for success in the classroom today and in their future careers. It also enables families to connect with telehealth, job opportunities, community services and other news and information. I commend the City, educators and private sector for helping so many households to get connected.”