STAUNTON — Online homework assignments, academic resources and parent portals are valuable educational tools for students — as long as they have internet access.
Approximately 10% of Staunton City Schools families do not have internet connectivity at home, according to Tom Lundquist, the school division’s director of technology. An award from T-Mobile could help reduce that number.
Staunton City Schools is the recipient of the T-Mobile Empowered Award and will receive internet hotspot equipment valued at $40,000 dollars, according to a press release. The school division’s inventory of hotspot equipment will increase from 200 to 400 units.
The new award comes after a multi-year program where T-Mobile leased hotspots to the school division, according to the release. Through that program, students could check out a hotspot for up to two weeks with teacher input and parental approval. With the new award, students will be able to check out a hotspot for an entire school year.
Providing students with internet access at no cost helps reduce what many refer to as the “homework gap.” In 2016, Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called the homework gap “the cruelest part of the digital divide.”
One facet of this divide is shown in test scores. Students with home internet score higher in reading, math and science, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In 2019, the Associated Press reported that nearly 3 million students in both urban and rural areas of the country do not have internet access at home. Children are less likely to have internet access if they are non-white, if their parents have lower levels of education or if they live in a low-income household, the National Center for Education Statistics found.
T-Mobile is also giving Staunton City Schools $26,000 for the division’s recently established Equity First Fund, the release said. In 2019, anonymous donors contributed $105,000 to support new and existing initiatives promoting equity, inclusion and diversity in Staunton schools.
“With these generous contributions, our Equity First Fund is off to a roaring start,” Superintendent Garett Smith said in the release. “We’re grateful to T-Mobile for their ongoing support and for helping us to remove barriers to technology for our families. We look forward to increased engagement from our parents and students as a result.”
To further increase technology access, the school division’s technology department is refurbishing Chromebooks and laptops that are no longer used by students. The department will offer them on a first-come, first-served basis to students in need by March.
“Our goal is to ensure that every student and parent who needs access to technology receives it, and remove barriers to student success by ensuring each family has the digital tools they need for a modern-day education,” Lundquist said. “We’re excited to achieve that goal thanks to the contributions from T-Mobile.”
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