RCSD's free wireless hot spots to students bridge digital divide amid outbreak
Many students get much-needed web access at home for learning
- Of 1,700 high school students, 83% said they had no other convenient place to use the internet outside of school.
- Nearly all of the 1,700 said it had hurt their ability to complete their work.
More than 1,700 Rochester City School District high school students gained home internet for the first time in the last several months, according to a district survey, potentially easing the transition to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
The district was accepted last year into the 1Million Program, a free initiative sponsored by Sprint that provides high-speed wireless hot spots to students in grades 9-12.
That was the culmination of several years' effort to connect students to the internet and help close what is known as the "homework gap."
As part of the program, RCSD surveyed its secondary students in the fall on their internet access away from school. Some of the takeaways from that survey, which was obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle via a Freedom of Information request:
- 1,700 high school students, or 55% of all students surveyed, did not have internet access at home.
- Of those 1,700, 83% said they had no other convenient place to use the internet outside of school, and 99% said it had hurt their ability to complete their work.
- Of those who could access it elsewhere, a third could do so for only one hour per week.
- About 30% of students with internet at home were sharing it with more than six other people.
Those 1,700 students have all received the wireless devices, according to the district. Likewise, about 90% of students have either a district-issued laptop or their own computer at home, Chief Technology Officer Glen VanDerwater said.
That does not solve the entire problem, though. For one thing, fewer than half of district students in grades 9-12 responded to the survey, meaning there are likely many more high school students still in need.
Sprint did not provide as many devices as anticipated, VanDerwater said. RCSD has requested an additional 3,000 of them but doesn't know if or when they may arrive.
Still, he said: "It's a blessing, I'll tell you. ... I'm very happy with where we are for grades 9-12."
The district does not have wireless devices available for students in K-8. For them as well as secondary students who have not received a wireless device, the district is printing out assignments and delivering them to food drop-off sites or students' houses.