Turn & Talk Issue 1: The Digital Divide
The pandemic brought to the front and center the challenges around the racial and economic disparities that we have been advocating to eliminate for decades. One of those challenges has been providing students with access to technology and internet services.
If you would have asked me, prior to the pandemic, what it would take to bridge that divide and confront the digital inequity among the School District of Philadelphia students, I would have said money, reallocation of funds, numerous bills, intense professional development, in-depth planning, strategizing and support from various stakeholders, including policymakers, nonprofit organizations, educators, school leaders and technology providers, and various discussions at the federal and state level.
To an extent, that’s exactly what it took.
The pandemic forced us to accomplish in months, what would have taken years.
We were able to quickly provide digital accessibility for our students thanks to the work of District staff and support from local organizations and individuals.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of Governor Wolf’s shut down for the remainder of the school year last April, I am proud of what the School District of Philadelphia has accomplished thanks to the many hands involved. These accomplishments include:
- Implementing a 1:1 Chromebook initiative for more than 117,000 students, thanks to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and more than $7 million in donations from local companies and organizations, including the Aileen and Brian Roberts Foundation, Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, Bank of America and Crown Castle.
- Helping families gain access to reliable Internet. As of early April, we issued 1,584 hotspots, and Comcast’s Internet Essentials program and the City of Philadelphia’s PHLConnectED program helped 9,282 students cross the digital divide.
- I am absolutely amazed at how our educators transitioned from brick and mortar to the digital classroom within a short amount of time. Through countless hours of professional development and on-going training, our teachers are now leveraging document cameras and digital tools like virtual manipulatives, videos, jamboards and interactive pages to continue providing high quality instruction aligned to our instructional frameworks.
- Providing assistance for parents and students who need new devices, support with existing District-issued devices or general IT matters by launching the Parent & Family Technology Support Centers and Parent & Family Technology Support Hotline. Since last July, our District has repaired more than 20,000 Chromebooks at these centers, averaging 60 repairs per day at each of the three sites. Our centers have also swapped an average of 340 devices each week for devices that cannot be repaired on spot in a timely manner.
There is still work to be done. There are still legitimate needs with regard to the digital divide, digital equity and digital accessibility, but we have made significant strides, narrowing the gap that will have a long-term impact for our students beyond the pandemic. Thank you for being part of the progress!