One state’s plan to bring better internet to schools and homes

Creating Accessibility

Also within the K-12 space, OneCommunity’s Connect Your Community initiative was a 3-year project focused on bridging the digital divide. Through Connect Your Community, OneCommunity worked with households that were below the poverty line, providing them with training, equipment, and broadband access. Gonick points to The Pew Internet & American Life Project as proof that a digital divide exists in America, especially among people over 65, those with little education, with household incomes of $25,000 or less, people with disabilities, African Americans, and those in rural areas.

“These are precisely the groups that we serve with Connect Your Community,” Gonick said, “through neighbor-to-neighbor programs across seven diverse communities.”

Bill Callahan, director of Connect Your Community 2.0 (the new iteration of Connect Your Community, whose federal grant ran out in 2013), said the program served about 26,000 households across eight localities. “A high number of our activities were done in cooperation with school district programs,” said Callahan. “We had a significant number of parents who were trained by the school districts, for example, and who then served in classes that were oriented toward digital-parenting engagement.”

The parents who were involved in the program were self-selected and typically learned about the opportunity via school-generated publicity. The focus was on parent engagement with the school district, including 20 hours of training on general skills plus whatever portal the district was using to engage with parents, Callahan explains. While the federal grant has since ended, Connect Your Community 2.0 is now developing additional resources and running as a collaborative effort among partners (including OneCommunity).

Crossing the Digital Divide

Looking back on OneCommunity’s track record over the last 12 years, Gonick said the effort could definitely be replicated in other communities and districts across the nation. To create the most impacts and get the best results, however, he said multiple organizations, constituents, and districts must be willing to get behind the initiative and support it over time.

“We’ve learned that it definitely takes a village to sort through all of the technical, pedagogical, and student-related services, and to bring the technology community to the planning progress,” said Gonick. “These steps are vitally important to the success and for building a coalition. But in a world where high-speed broadband is no longer a ‘nice to have,’ but a ‘must have’ formula, the effort is definitely worth it.”

Callahan also sees the OneCommunity-Connect Your Community model as one that could be replicated by other districts, although he said any such effort would require adequate, ongoing funding and support. “Getting low-income homes connected and trained on how to use the Internet – and how to use a district’s online tools – requires a systematic and reliable approach,” said Callahan. “It can’t be solved through an intervention with just a few hundred parents.”

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.

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