MILWAUKEE (WDJT) — With a number of area schools starting the academic year virtually, community advocates are racing against time to provide families in need with basic internet access for students.
Education officials say a survey provided by Milwaukee Public Schools revealed a large number of MPS parents did not have internet.
“The impact COVID-19 has had on schools and workplaces in the community have really highlighted what an inequity this is,” said Nicole Angresano, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County.
United Way GMWC’s new initiative ‘Techquity,’ is tackling tech inequity in the area, and they’re focusing on homes with school-aged children.
Lincoln Avenue Elementary School in Milwaukee is just one school with that need.
“A lot of our parents did not have internet, they did not have Chromebooks or computers so right away we saw, ‘this is crisis mode,’” said Damaris Ayala, Principal at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School.
“We know that access absolutely has inequities when it comes to neighborhoods where financial stability isn’t as common,” adds Angresano.
Ayala says with the help of United Way, families in need were provided internet hot spots helping more than 300 students, but a large need remains.
“For my school, we have 500-plus students, so I would have to say at least 200 more are needed,” says Ayala.
“It is disheartening to hear how far behind we are in terms of comparing ourselves to other districts that were able to send out Chromebooks to every single student like immediately and to know that everybody already had internet at home,” says Regina Stieber, Community School Coordinator for Lincoln Avenue Elementary School. “We’re starting from a deficit.”
Angresano says MPS provided every student household with at least one Chromebook by the end of the last school year, but there are gaps.
“When learning is on the line it’s critical they have their own units,” she said.
“Community schools is just one part of Milwaukee Public Schools,” said Stieber. “There are a bunch of schools within our district that need the same help that we do.”
United Way GMWC is now in the surveying mode to find out the full scope of the need before school begins, their initiative also extends to Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties
“In our outer county areas we do have children who are in rural areas that suffer from lack of Wi-Fi,” Angresano says.
“We have to make sure we remove that extra barrier and make sure there’s equal access across the board,” said Stieber.
In addition to the efforts by United Way GMWC, on Tuesday the Milwaukee Common Council passed a resolution that would provide greater broadband access throughout the city.
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