Addressing Digital Inequities0
When the schools first closed due to COVID-19 safety protocols, many Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) students were left unable to participate in online learning due to a lack of Wi-Fi access at home. As teaching staff worked to find adaptive ways to teach and engage with students, others tackled the technical needs of virtual learning in order to identify and remedy connective inequities.
On April 2, 2020, several groups throughout Kalamazoo formed a partnership to address this problem.
Local organizations including the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), The Kalamazoo Promise, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the City of Kalamazoo, and the Foundation for Excellence joined KPS to create Digital Access for All (DAFA).
KPL’s unique role as a lender of library materials within the community paired with the KPS student database it created for the OneCard program made the organization a natural fit for DAFA.
“From our perspective, this partnership was an extension of what we already do as a library,” said Ryan Wieber, KPL’s Director. “We received a list of KPS students and families who were eligible for the hotspot devices. Thanks to OneCard, roughly 90% of students already had a library card that allowed them to check a hotspot out right away.”
By September 2020, KPL handed out hotspots via its mobile library with additional support provided by its Technology Services staff.
“Both students and their families have gained access to the internet,” Jarrod Wilson, Head of Technology Services, explained. "These hotspots can serve up to five devices in a home. Households with three or more students can also apply for additional hotspots.”
DAFA originally purchased and distributed 1,000 hotspots. Since then, funding has been approved for an additional 250. While DAFA is a great start, there is hope from its members that it helps create a dialogue regarding a bigger issue.
“There is an assumption that the internet is easily accessible to everyone in our community or that multiple devices in a household can access the internet at the same time,” Wilson explained. “The digital divide is real and COVID-19 exacerbated this issue within our community.”
“We all know these hotspots are a temporary solution but hopefully our work can lead to bigger conversations about free broadband internet access for the community,” Wieber added. “The future will always have some sort of virtual component to it when it comes to education.”
Whatever the future holds, we are proud of the work individuals and organizations have undertaken to provide digital access for KPS families. Connecting with student success and community equity are always important!