Some students still don’t have adequate or reliable internet access.
Ninety-four percent of school districts have acceptable high-speed internet, according to a report released last month by EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit advocacy group.
But even if students have internet access at school, they may not be connected at home. A 2017 report found that about 5 million school-age children, mostly low income, don’t have home broadband internet.
If students do have internet, it may not be sufficient, says Andrew Moore, chief information officer for Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. He is leading the district’s efforts to get students online at home.
He says students may be sharing a connection or device with several family members. Or families may have a limited data plan, says Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, a professional association commonly known as CoSn.
“How do they do their homework? It’s just not equal trying to do your essay on your smartphone or apply for college while you are sitting on public Wi-Fi at McDonalds,” he says. Families without adequate internet also face challenges communicating with educators, he says.
School leaders can try the following strategies to help high schoolers get online at home so teens can prepare for the future.
1. Work with the community: School officials could partner with local businesses to create homework partner programs, says Krueger. Schools provide logos to local restaurants, coffee shops – perhaps even a dental clinic – to place on the door of these establishments to indicate students can use their Wi-Fi.
Districts could work with local leaders to establish after-school programs in churches or other community spaces to offer students a safe space to do homework with internet, he says
2. Provide mobile hotspots: Students can take these mobile hotspot devices anywhere and have internet access, Krueger says.
Technology company Kajeet also works with schools to offer hotspots to students, says Moore. But Moore says mobile hotspots don’t always provide great coverage, while Krueger says they often have a data cap.
3. Wire buses: Some districts have added Wi-Fi to school buses so teens can take advantage of long commutes to school or athletic events to complete assignments, Krueger says.
4. Build awareness of affordable options: Some internet providers offer services to low-income individuals at discounted rates. For instance, Comcast’s Internet Essentials service is $9.95 a month plus tax for qualifying customers.
Moore says these programs haven’t always been accepted in communities. There can be language barriers or an outstanding bill families need to address before they can get service. Still, his district informs families this may be an option.
5. Ensure students have devices: Students don’t just need a broadband connection to get online. Moore says the Boulder Valley School District’s 1:Web program provides low-income high schoolers with a free Chromebook, while other teens receive the device for a relatively small fee.
School leaders could also look to their storage rooms or those of local organizations for old devices that can be refurbished, Krueger says.
6. Think long term: School leaders shouldn’t feel that they have to solve the problem themselves, says Jayne James, project director for the digital equity action education agenda with CoSn. The organization’s digital equity toolkit can serve as a starting point for school leaders to use to work in with local leaders to improve the infrastructure for all, she says.
Moore’s district is piloting a program with an over-the-air internet provider. The service provider needed space to place antennas to get a signal out to customers, so Moore’s district offered the company a couple school buildings.
In exchange, the company provides free internet to some low-income families in the district. Moore hopes to expand the program if it’s successful and use it as a long-term solution.