1,000 Kalamazoo Public Schools homes will get free internet under new partnership

A new partnership will provide free internet service and Wi-Fi routers to 1,000 homes of Kalamazoo Public School students, following action by the Kalamazoo City Commission. The commission approved funding for the effort at a virtual meeting Monday, June 15, amending the city budget to allocate $200,000 from the Foundation for Excellence Aspirational Fund for the effort. The meeting went past midnight and the vote to approve the partnership happened early Tuesday morning. The Digital Access for All partnership includes Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the city of Kalamazoo, with funding from the Foundation for Excellence.

“The executive order that closed public schools exacerbated the educational inequities that are present in our community,” said Von Washington Jr., executive director of community relations for the Kalamazoo Promise. “Many of our students don’t have access to Wi-Fi at home, which makes online schooling nearly impossible for some families. “It was imperative that The Promise and community partners collaborate to address unequal access to Wi-Fi, both now and into the future. For Kalamazoo to truly be an education community, our actions must stop the deepening of inequities already present in our society. We are responsible for reducing barriers that have long stifled the educational outcomes of marginalized communities,” he said. Along with KPS’s supplying of laptops to all students, the the partnership eliminates a hurdle to distance learning that many students face in Kalamazoo, according to the city. The goal is to create a more level playing field for internet access and to enhance access for online education services so all students can learn. This initiative relies on the collaboration, resources, and shared accountability of its partners. The public school district and The Promise will each provide $50,000 toward the anticipated program cost of $200,000 in the first year. The city, with support from the Foundation for Excellence, will cover remaining expenses and provide sustainability for the effort long-term, according to the city. Foundation for Excellence Coordinator Steve Brown gave a presentation about the partnership during Monday’s city commission meeting. “The Digital Access for All initiative demonstrates that advancing equitable access to resources can happen both quickly and with a grand vision of sustainability, when done in partnership with organizations that are passionate about the work,” Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson said a news release announcing the partnership. The Kalamazoo Public Library will manage and lend the devices. For donations to support the program, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has created a dedicated fund specific to the partnership. “Recognizing the digital divide that exists within our community and taking action to address that divide is critical," Kalamazoo Community Foundation President and CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway said. “Leveraging many talents and assets to close the gap speaks to the strength of collaboration and commitment to remove barriers to education that every student deserves.” The partnership began on April 2, when the implications of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order became clear, resulting in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students learning at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instructional and support services are being provided by teachers and staff through online communication to students to the greatest extent possible, but not all students have internet access, the city said. “Access to the internet has already become more of a necessity than a luxury, even without a pandemic,” Kalamazoo Public Library Director Ryan Wieber said. “It is essential for learning, research, banking, collaborating, and a critical part of an education in itself.” In order to provide internet access to students who do not have it, hot spots and services are being purchased for KPS students to borrow from the KPL as a part of the already established OneCard Program, which allows students to borrow books, movies, and other items through the library. The effort will start in June 2020 with the city of Kalamazoo (through the Foundation for Excellence) following City Commission approval Monday. The partnership is subject to any necessary approval by all other partners, the city said. It will conclude on Aug. 31, 2021. “This is a big step towards eliminating the digital divide and making sure that all students have opportunities to advance,” KPS Superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri said in a news release. Eligible participants must be KPS students participating in the OneCard Program. Families that have identified themselves as having “no access” will be offered priority registration. Only one device per street address and residence will be permitted.

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