Realizing the impact a stable broadband connection can have on students, Affton School District in St. Louis, where I work, has been working to address this issue for a while now. In Affton, more than 40 percent of students live with the effects of poverty, and many others slide in and out of this space throughout the school year. This hasn’t stopped us from marching forward with an innovative plan to provide all students with classrooms that are designed well, filled with great teachers, supported with the best instructional practices, and amplified with the essential technology tools for modern learning.
Part of this plan saw Affton bringing a one-to-one learning environment to its students in grades 6-12, and in doing so, we committed to these devices being accessible to students 24-hours a day. As a district we realized that providing technology access beyond the school day reaps so many additional benefits — students using technology to explore and pursue their passions, family access to online resources for learning and work related uses, and greater home-school communication — and that, likewise, the lack of access leaves too many students behind. Technology that is locked in carts from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day, we reasoned, was a wasted opportunity. So we moved to create ubiquitous access to devices for all students.
To close this equity gap, we turned to Kajeet, which provides wireless hotspots and management services to connect students to the world beyond the hours of formal learning. This partnership has opened us up to become a part of an ongoing conversation about how to build the best services for kids and families.
At Affton, this service is available for all students, but we have found that less than 4 percent of our students are seeking support from the school in this area. This varied from survey data we collected prior to our program’s launch that showed about 12 percent of students are without reliable home wi-fi access. In some cases, we have found that students found a quality workaround solution, and in others, we realized that our survey had resulted in some false positives on the needs of our community. In order for our mission to be successful, we knew that it was essential that we use all of our communication tools available, especially those that had proven to be effective with our most disconnected families, to introduce and promote this wi-fi option. This meant counselor phone calls, personal conversations with students, and text messages and phone blasts to home and cellular phones.
It was essential that those in need of access know about the service and take advantage of service that we were providing. In addition, teachers and building leaders were asked to listen deeply and advocate for those in apparent need, so that we could truly make this opportunity an equitable offering in both philosophy and practice. Students can checkout devices from our help desk, and keep them for 2GBs of use. At that point, we asked students to bring the devices in for a checkup. These checkups served as a means to not only check on the devices, but have another adult in the building check in with the needs of the students. A number of great things emerged from these check-ins.
Next page: How the program makes a difference