MANHATTAN — High school students are increasingly finding themselves saddled with homework that requires an internet connection for research, but many New York City families don’t have access at home.
To level the playing field, 30,775 students attending 66 high schools serving low-income students are getting free wireless devices, thanks to an initiative announced Thursday by the Department of Education. It comes as part the Sprint 1 Million Project to distribute 1 million wireless devices to underserved students across the nation over the next five years in an effort to close the “homework gap."
The city selected device recipients who are in its Community Schools Initiative — or schools largely serving low-income students and providing them with intensive supports beyond the classroom, like eye and dental checkups and mental health supports.
Students will be able to access the internet directly from their devices, or use them as hotspots to log onto the internet from tablets, laptops and desktops. They can use them until they graduate. (The devices do not allow calls or texting, just internet browsing.)
For families living below the poverty line, 35 percent do not have home internet access, a 2015 analysis by the Center for Economic Opportunity found.
Even for those who may have some internet access, other issues like low bandwidth, multiple family members using one computer, or access that is not consistently available because of economic instability makes it hard for students to do their online-related assignments, according to the DOE.
Moreover, Community Schools serve a disproportionate number of students who are homeless or in temporary housing. While students in unstable housing situations make up 8 percent of the school system, they make up 14 percent of the Community Schools’ populations, according to the Fund for Public Schools.
“The success of our Community Schools relies on building connections between the home and school, and that’s exactly the opportunity these devices provide,” Chris Caruso, executive director for NYC Community Schools, said in a statement. “Students will be able to continue their learning and work on assignments at home, and families will be better able than ever to be a part of their children’s schoolwork.”