For some, relying on the library or local businesses for free internet is the only way to ensure they can complete the online work commonly assigned at school, due to a lack of the resource in their own homes. The concern for students in this situation led to around 45 families asking the district to partner with a support system like the 1Million Project, according to director of the district IT department, Bob Fishtrom.
The 1Million Project is a public American charity, whose goal is to reach out to students without internet access at home and supply them with free internet resources for their entirety in high school. Each student receives 10 gigabytes of data every month as well as a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone, and a hotspot to ensure the student can have access to wifi anywhere.
“Their slogan is ‘Potential is everywhere, opportunity is not.’ Everyone has the potential to be amazing, outstanding, and achieve [great things]but if you don’t have the opportunity of web access at home, that doesn’t level the playing field for all students,” Fishtrom said.
The charity has been active for three years, and is partnered with 247 districts countrywide. According to their website, 1Million Project, it estimates that around 350,000 students are being supported through the foundation.
According to Fishtrom, the district decided to pair up with the charity due to the amount of requests from students and his own past experience with the program in a previous district.
“We were able to provide wireless access for over 400 families in my former district… [where]I had twice as many students as MVLA, say 9,000 students,” Fishtrom said.
In order to apply for the benefits, students had to fill out a form in March giving their information and confirming they didn’t already have internet access. This confirmed 25 households to sign-up with the program that month, and further effort is being used to reach the families of rising freshmen in similar situations.
Potential is everywhere, opportunity is not.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and current need for distance learning, reliable wifi access has been a resource near food to prioritize distribution to student households. With the 1Million Project unprepared for supplying students this semester, the school has been researching and spreading awareness offers from internet providers such as Comcast, with 60 days of free wifi.
The district has also chosen to pair up with T-Mobile, and a program called EmpowerED, one dedicated to giving hotspots of 160 gigabytes of unlimited data. It also has helped supply additional devices for students. This program differs from a charity like the 1Million Project as it needs to be paid for.
According to Fishtrom, internet access for the semester is being monitored through updates from identified students-in-need and prioritizing communication with families.