Ed Tech Trends

Philly Program Targets 35,000 Students for Digital Connectivity

A public-private partnership in Philadelphia will help up to 35,000 students in low-income households acquire computing devices and internet access. "PHLConnectED,"as the program is called, will also provide digital skills training and tech support for families, in time for the start of school.

The district decided to begin all students online through Nov. 17. Then, as a reopening plan explained, it will "transition to a mix of in-person and digital learning as long as guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and other indicators support that it is safe to do so."

Recipients will receive:

  • Free wired, high-speed internet to the home from Comcast's Internet Essentials program, or a high-speed mobile hotspot for families who are housing-insecure or need a portable option;

  • Devices, such as Chromebooks, tablets or computers, which have been acquired by the school district, charter school or private funds; and

  • Free skills training and tech support for household members, to help them understand how to take advantage of the internet.

Current project sponsors include:

"The digital divide is an inequity that presents a significant barrier to our goal of helping all students in every neighborhood reach their full academic potential," said William R. Hite, Jr., superintendent of the school district, in a statement. "So, we...are pleased to see the city, legislators and business leaders come together to launch PHLConnectED, a program we believe can close the divide and allow for all students to have the access they need, especially now as we prepare for 100 percent digital learning to start the 2020-2021 school year next month."

Eligible households will be contacted by their schools directly via mail, email, calls and texts. This phase of the project will cost $17.1 million over two years. Philanthropic partners have donated $11 million; the city is contributing $2 million from CARES Act funding; and the remaining costs will be shared among the district and schools.

Mayor Jim Kenney added that PHLConnectED is a launchpad effort that serves as stage one of the city's larger ambition. "Our goal is to identify and implement affordable, simple and reliable digital access solutions for all our residents," he said. "By focusing on K-12 student households now, we can have an immediate impact in bridging the digital divide, especially to support distance learning for the upcoming school year."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.