SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif — San Diego County officials on Thursday announced 19 school districts and charter schools will see improved access to the internet thanks to $2 million in county funds intended to bridge a digital divide between students during distance-learning.
According to County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, 4,303 students stand to benefit from the funding and stronger connection to the internet. The funds will go toward satellite and cable internet, as well as wireless hotspots.
"We talk about our teens as digital natives, but that does not always extend to the tools necessary to be successful in an academic environment. One of the struggles spotlighted during COVID-19 has been student access to reliable internet connectivity for distance learning," Fletcher said. "That is the reason I fought so hard during the county's budget deliberations to secure this money. Educating our youth is essential, even more so during a pandemic and I didn't want that to get lost."
Fletcher, co-chair of the county's COVID-19 Subcommittee, spoke Thursday about the funding. He was joined by Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools and Pamela Gray Payton, vice president at The San Diego Foundation. Also on hand was Carlos Salazar, with the King-Chavez Neighborhood of Schools, one of the funding awardees.
Salazar said he sees kids and parents stressed every day, some trying to find internet access. He told News 8, close to 1,500 students in the King Chavez community will be connected online from home.
“In reality, not every household, not every child has access to internet and devices to connect with their teachers. We're in an environment for many children that is the only opportunity for learning,” said Fletcher.
The funding recipients are:
-- All Tribes American Indian Charter;
-- Borrego Springs Unified School District;
-- Darnall Charter;
-- Epiphany Prep Charter;
-- Escondido Union High School District;
-- Iftin Charter;
-- Julian Union High School District;
-- Julian Union School District;
-- KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy;
-- King-Chavez Academy of Excellence;
-- King-Chavez Arts & Athletics Academy;
-- King-Chavez Community High;
-- King-Chavez Preparatory Academy;
-- King-Chavez Primary Academy;
-- MY Academy;
-- National School District;
-- San Ysidro School District;
-- South Bay Union School District; and
-- Warner Unified School District.
These schools were selected by the county Office of Education after an application process that considered student needs and prioritized schools with high percentages of students who have disabilities, are in the foster care system, experiencing homelessness or live in rural areas. Some $8.25 million in requests were submitted to the office, far exceeding available funds.
According to the San Diego County Office of Education, an estimated 45,000 children in the county still lack internet access or are under- connected.
"The pandemic did not cause the digital divide. It exacerbated it," said Gothold. "Even with school reopenings, the vast majority of students are participating in a hybrid environment that requires both in-person and online learning."
The San Diego Foundation through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, launched in March, has contributed nearly $3 million to address the digital divide and learning loss in San Diego. Their grant support has been directed to help low-income families by providing internet connectivity and laptops to kids without the necessary technology to do schoolwork at home, as well as funding organizations that provide virtual training and mentorship services for students most at risk of falling behind in school.
As part of this initiative, the foundation has committed an additional $1 million to support future digital divide needs in the San Diego region.
"While there has been an overwhelming amount of generosity during this pandemic, the needs of our local families and students continue to grow," Payton said. "COVID-19 has placed significant burdens on our youngest generation but thanks to the leadership demonstrated with this initiative, we will be able to bridge the digital divide in San Diego County so that every child has a bright future."