Area organizations paving onramp to ‘Connect Our Students’ to digital highway

Of the approximately 283,000 public school students in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, nearly 46,200 have no internet service at home.

This lack of digital equity creates unequal access to information, technology, and opportunities to learn. The ramifications of unequal digital access became particularly clear this spring when schools transitioned to remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands of students were not able to participate along with their classmates.

In response, Cincinnati Bell, Cincinnati Public Schools, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and ComputerXpress are partnering with several organizations to help area K-12 public school students access low-cost internet connectivity at home in time for the 2020-21 school year.

“Connect Our Students” is a program focused on increasing digital equity through pilot programs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, tailored to meet the needs of local school districts. These pilot programs, which started in June, will help partners identify learnings and best practices necessary to expand the program throughout the summer.

Cincinnati Pilot Program

The Cincinnati pilot program will deliver connectivity to approximately 2,000 qualifying students from five CPS schools who currently lack internet access: Rockdale Academy, South Avondale School, Hays-Porter Elementary School, Roberts Academy, and Fairview Clifton German Language School.

CPS officials are working with Cincinnati Bell to identify qualifying students and facilitate installation. All connections will be compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

“We are honored to be a part of the ‘Connect our Students’ pilot,” said Laura Mitchell, superintendent of Cincinnati Pubic Schools. “This private-public community partnership is critical to help remove barriers to remote learning and increase technology equity and accessibility.”

Laura Mitchell

The following organizations are funding the Cincinnati pilot program: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Interact for Health, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, StrivePartnership, and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“Connecting students from low-income families to the internet has become even more urgent with the switch to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Greater Cincinnati Foundation President and CEO Ellen M. Katz. “These students already run into significant roadblocks to their education, and we know that clearing their paths to academic achievement is vital to their futures, and to that of our community.”

Northern Kentucky Pilot Program

The Northern Kentucky pilot program will deliver connectivity to approximately 884 qualifying students in all districts with a focus on the following school districts that have demonstrated the greatest need: Boone County, Kenton County, Campbell County, Covington Independent Public Schools, Erlanger-Elsmere Independent, Newport Independent, Dayton Independent, Ludlow Independent, and Bellevue Independent.

Officials from United Way and participating school districts are working with Cincinnati Bell to identify qualifying students and install service. Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati Foundation are funding the pilot project.

“COVID-19 exposed the importance of access to technology, especially when it comes to virtual learning,” said Moira Weir, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “The ‘Connect Our Students’ program will ensure no student is left behind.  Maintaining educational and social ties during COVID-19 is the way to academic growth and positive mental health.”

Funding Opportunities for Expansion Plans

Greater Cincinnati Foundation and several community leaders are working to identify additional funders to support expansion plans for the “Connect Our Students” program. Members of the public may also contribute to this effort to help connect students to the internet. All funding from organizations and individuals will help offset costs so Cincinnati Bell can deliver the necessary bandwidth to support interactive applications such as video calls for under $17 a month a month to qualifying students.

“It is incumbent upon us to work together and find solutions to break down the barriers and pave the onramp to the digital highway for students that would otherwise be left behind.”

Steve Pollak, owner of ComputerXpress

ComputerXpress has created a website where organizations and individuals can contribute to the “Connect Our Students” fund, which will be managed by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Organizations and individuals may support Northern Kentucky fund-raising efforts by texting “NKYWIFI” to 71777. The United Way is managing those donations.

Leigh Fox

“Cincinnati Bell has invested over $1 billion to build out our fiber network – but that investment means nothing if students can’t access the internet for school,” said Leigh Fox, president and CEO of Cincinnati Bell.

“It is incumbent upon us to work together and find solutions to break down the barriers and pave the onramp to the digital highway for students that would otherwise be left behind,” said Steve Pollak, owner of ComputerXpress.

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