Solving The Digital Divide - Internet-for-All

Winchester, VA

The Foundation’s Efforts Against COVID-19

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Disaster Response Strategy:

Augmented Capacity of Our School Districts + Provided Critical Support to Our Non-Profit Partners Taking Care of Our Most Vulnerable Children

J2W Foundation supported short-term COVID-19 disaster response efforts within our service areas. We transitioned our COVID-19 disaster response grantmaking efforts to long-term disaster recovery strategy that will support partner organizations for years to come.

Program Summary

The goal of this program was to find a way to help solve the IT tech divide by ensuring equitable access to distance learning capabilities for all

  • Served on a 2020 summer Task Force exploring the possibilities of making Winchester an “Internet for All” community to help reduce the “homework divide” negatively impacting lower‑income students
  • Acted as the private partner in a public-private partnership with the City of Winchester, Winchester Public Schools, and Opportunity Scholars
  • Provided funding to help fully subsidize low-income students in need of Comcast’s broadband Internet Essentials program for school year 2020-2021
  • The intent of the program was to effectively bring the number of Winchester public school students without access to broadband Internet down to ZERO
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Measures of Performance

Data Analysis

  • Goal: To provide access to broadband Internet for up to 500 low-income Winchester Public School families that may not have had access to broadband Internet over the course of the virtual and hybrid 2019-2020 school year.
  • Up to 500 low-income students was the planning factor used by WPS, based on an estimated 10% of the student population that did not have broadband Internet in their homes.
  • Marketing and awareness campaigns included: local newspaper articles, social media postings, family-directed text blasts, distribution through the office of Student Services, as well as fliers provided to registrars for incoming students.
  • The program only enrolled 10 students by the end of the first year. Based upon analysis conducted locally as well as with Comcast corporate and the Boston Consulting Group after-action report, some reasons for this low number may include:
    1. The 10% planning factor may not have been accurate and the total number of students in need may have been less than expected.
    2. Some families felt using a WPS-provided hotspot was easier to use. This was evidenced by the increase in WPS-issued hotspot usage. Numbers of signed-out hotspots increased from 0 to 57 and ended with 75 (75% of WPS inventory).
    3. Overall, Comcast sponsored service model “take rates” were down nationwide.
    4. Four factors hindered adoption:
      1. Structural limitations: household may not be able to accommodate; no identification to apply.
      2. Lack of awareness: Marketing still may not have reached some of the most underserved families within the community.
      3. Lack of clarity: Families may not have been sure if they could qualify; may have been confused if they already had an existing Internet Essentials account; and/or families were unsure if they qualified.
      4. Lack of trust: Some families may have been skeptical of free services; may have been biased against free programs assuming the connectivity would be slow or unreliable; and/or were worried about hidden fees, future costs, or sharing of personal information.
    5. Some families, perceived to need the program, declined to use for a variety of reasons. This was also evidenced by the lower-than-expected free meal pick-ups that occurred in parallel with the Internet program.
  • We measured academic performance with a correlative hypothesis that increased access to broadband Internet would cause a reduction in “not ready” PALS (literacy) scores within the elementary schools and failure rates within the middle school over the course of the virtual year.
    1. For baselines, we looked at pre-COVID 2018-2019 scores as the “norm” for a typical, in-person school year.
    2. This program was not necessarily intended to improve learning, but rather to reduce academic slide as a result of learning virtually versus within the classroom. Thus, we used the same pre-COVID 2018-2019 scores as the targets to, at a minimum, ensure we maintained previous learning.
    3. Severe academic declines in both elementary and middle school occurred between the start of the virtual school year and the end of the first semester.
    4. However, significant improvements occurred over the last semester. While the numbers for the Internet for All program were low, we believe general access to broadband Internet (either through the program, existing broadband accounts, hotspots, and other initiatives by WPS), along with improved teacher and student interface on virtual platforms, and other intensive, school-based programs helped to ensure WPS students were able to maintain learning and, in some cases, improve academically over the course of the year.