As our community responds to the ongoing school closures, it is increasingly apparent that hundreds of students do not have the internet bandwidth or devices necessary to participate in a new online learning environment.
That is why the Foundation for Tacoma Students has partnered with Tacoma Public Schools and local internet provider, Rainier Connect, to help get laptops and high-speed internet service into the homes of Tacoma students.
“In a matter of weeks, systems and sectors have had to completely rethink the way they do business and respond quicker than ever before to support the needs of youth and young adults,” said Dr. Tafona Ervin, Executive Director for the Foundation for Tacoma Students. “Now, we are encouraging our community to take stock in our new normal and be deliberate about the redesign that is in front of us.”
“No longer should we feel obligated to a “business as usual” construct, but rather we should rebuild our systems leading first with targeted universalism and applying equitable practices as we see fit. This is what the future of our work will look like.”
Throughout the next two weeks, the Foundation is both identifying and connecting students with the highest needs using an initial survey conducted by TPS coupled with additional phone call outreach. In this way, we hope to encourage the highest possible response rate from students who lack internet or devices. If you or someone you know could benefit from increased access to technology, visit TacomaLearns.org, or contact Expanded Learning & Community Engagement Manager Leandra Shelton directly at lshelton@GraduateTacoma.org or (253) 327-1448.
The Foundation is working to ensure the following two connections are made for students.
With the help of Rainier Connect, we can now arrange free high-speed home internet service for many students’ households who currently do not have access. These connections will be for up to one year at no cost to those who receive them. They are prioritized for students who have the most need, based on graduation requirements, advanced classes, and a lack of existing connections at their residence. This service is in addition to the nearly 50 local free high-speed Wi-Fi locations now available and listed on the Tacoma Learns website.
Headquartered in downtown Tacoma, Rainier Connect has committed to being a good neighbor in the communities where its employees and customers live and work. The current ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order is necessary to protect public health but imposes a unique challenge for students who don’t have consistent and reliable internet connections.
“From sewing masks to donating money to delivering groceries and meals to vulnerable people, this community has stepped up,” said Brian Haynes, President and CEO of Rainier Connect. “We want Tacoma students to be successful and since they cannot be in school, we’re proud to do our part with broadband connections that support their education while class is safely taking place at home.”
Recently, Tacoma Public Schools distributed 2,500 laptop computers to students most in need of technology in order to ensure their successful completion through important transition points and academic markers such as high school graduation and AP classes. However, there are many more students who do not have a sufficient level of technology to ensure they can fully participate in the new online education systems and achieve a successful outcome. At this time, the Foundation is seeking to meet this need through the purchase and distribution of new technology, laptops, tablets, etc.
For community members who would like to contribute to this effort, the Foundation for Tacoma Students is launching a Giving Tuesday Now fundraising campaign on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. On this global day of giving, the Foundation aims to build on existing funds to expand their reach and serve more families.
“Over the last eight years, Tacoma Public Schools has significantly increased learning opportunities and improved academic achievement through the power of partnership,” said Scott Heinze, Tacoma Public Schools’ Board President. “In these unprecedented times, TPS once again is focused on how best to leverage our community partners to bridge gaps for students and families.”
“The Board is grateful that [the Foundation] is taking the lead and supporting the district by coordinating donations and working with providers to increase broadband internet access.”