In this strange new school year, more than 50 million U.S. children are learning remotely. And as many as a third of those, approximately 16 million, are thought to have inadequate access to either a usable computer, a reliable internet connection, or both, according to the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group for equal access to modern information technology. Many of these students wind up using fast food restaurants or cafes for internet access, or simply lurk in school parking lots. And many have unfortunately vanished from the education system, perhaps permanently.

A number of efforts have arisen, at local, state, and national levels to help address this gap, but perhaps the largest single access event happened on the morning of September 30, 2020. Working with T-Mobile’s Project 10Million, the news talk show “Good Morning America” targeted five public school districts around the country and granted more than 15,000 student households with five years of free, quality internet access.

The school districts were Allegheny Valley, Pennsylvania; Jackson, Mississippi; Baltimore, Maryland; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and South Bend, Indiana.

“It means a lot to the community – to narrow the gap, for students to have the opportunity to have internet access at home. It’s amazing,” said Shawn Henderson, a principal in South Bend, where the local solution was using wi-fi-enabled school buses as mobile hotspots in underserved neighborhoods.

In Santa Fe, an estimated 40 percent of students don’t have home internet access. In Jackson, 25 percent. In Baltimore, as many as 40,000 students in 20,000 households. Obviously, the new donation will not serve everyone. But T-Mobile’s 10Million is aimed at ultimately providing wi-fi access to 10 million students in need. Educators and parents interested in receiving free hotspots and data for their students should look here for more information.

The digital divide was harming students before COVID-19 closed schools, and it will still do so afterwards. But right now, while most of the nation should still remain at home, that gap is crippling. Every effort to close it should be made.

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