Tag: Bel Air Internet

Oct 7

Working to Bridge the Digital Divide for Our Students

The lack of access to digital and technology resources is not a new phenomenon facing school-aged children of color and children experiencing poverty. A recent study found that, nationally, around 17% of children are unable to complete their homework due to limited internet access. This “digital divide” and resulting “homework gap” mirrors trends in California, where about 1 in 6 school-aged children lack access to the internet at home. These numbers grow for the state’s most vulnerable children: students of color, low-income students, English Learnersstudents with disabilities, and homeless youth.  

The Education Trust West

The data is stark when it comes to the digital divide for our students, as these recent headlines illustrate:

This week is Digital Inclusion Week. Digital Inclusion Week is an online event held October 5-9, 2020 to raise awareness of solutions addressing home internet access, personal devices, and local technology training and support programs. Visit the official website to learn more and get involved. To celebrate this event we are spotlighting some of our recent efforts and partnerships as we work to bridge the digital divide for our students as part of our digital learning initiative.

Online Tutoring for All Students

In 2014, School on Wheels established its online tutoring program as a response to reach students that were geographically difficult to reach in Southern California. Our online tutoring program provides a live online classroom in which students and tutors interact synchronously through audio, video, and a shared whiteboard. From 2014 to 2020, School on Wheels has served close to 2,000 students in hard-to-reach areas such as Apple Valley, Lancaster, and San Diego with the help of hundreds of online tutors from 26 states across the country. We would not have been able to serve many of these students through our in-person tutoring programs.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19 in March of 2020, School on Wheels provided 90% in-person tutoring and 10% online tutoring. As a response to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, we have transitioned 100% of our tutoring online, and we have reached almost 900 students since March. While BigBlueButton is our main online tutoring software, students without robust internet and/or technology utilize other tools such as FaceTime and Google Duo to connect with their tutors. School on Wheels students and tutors are meeting exclusively online for the foreseeable future.

Summer Rewards Program

Our Summer Rewards Program was a massive hit! Any student who completed at least 5 full tutoring sessions between July 1st and August 17th qualified for a free device. Most qualifying K-3 students received Amazon Kindles or Amazon Fires (Kids Edition), students in grades 4-8 received Android tablets, and students in grades 9-12 received Chromebooks. 303 students qualified, participating in 2,878 hours of tutoring over the summer (thanks to the help and support of our amazing volunteer tutors)!

Technology access is crucial to students’ success during this time and we are so thankful to be able to provide devices that our students can keep and utilize to attend school and engage in learning.

Bel Air Internet Partnership

School on Wheels and Bel Air Internet are working together to bridge the digital divide and provide free high-speed Internet access for children experiencing homelessness in Southern California. Since January of 2019, BAI has provided its services to 6 of our sites. As a result, over 400 of our students have regular access to the Internet that they would otherwise not have. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bel Air Internet has installed high-speed internet/WiFi at 3 of our sites (with others in the works): Orange County Rescue Mission (Village of Hope) in Tustin, Motorcycle Riders in South Los Angeles, and HomeAid Family Care Center in Orange.

We are incredibly lucky to have such a great partner who helps us grow our impact and provide learning opportunities to more students.

Technology Donors

We have been able to purchase many tablets, Chromebooks, and other necessary hardware for our students with donated funds. In addition, we have had many generous technology donors, including Microsoft, AT&T, T2 Tech Group, and PBSSoCal.

Nov 21

The impact of the digital “homework gap” on our students

Computer and internet access is increasingly becoming a requirement for success in school, according to this article from the Atlantic. 70% of American teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection, and nearly half of American students say they must do online homework daily. Common Sense Media reports that the number of teens and tweens who use computers for homework every day has more than doubled in the last four years, and that nearly a third of teachers think that not having access to a computer or internet would limit their students’ learning.

Where does this leave students whose families can’t afford computers or internet access? Research shows that 1/3 of households making below $30,000 per year lack internet access, and 17% of teens can’t complete homework due to lack of access to technology. In California, 52% of low-income households don’t have a computer that connects to the internet. In South LA, the percentage of school-age children who live in internet-connected in households fell from 76% to 71% between 2013 and 2015. These students experience the “homework gap” – they’re unable to complete assignments and fall behind in school due to circumstances out of their control. 

The families we serve at School on Wheels experience extreme poverty, and can rarely afford computers. Many homeless shelters do not have internet access or computer labs. Some of our families live in vehicles. As a result, students often complete their homework on phones, or not at all. 

That is why we have made it a priority to connect our students to the digital tools they need to succeed. We’ve installed 15 Digital Learning Centers at shelters and schools, where every student has access to the internet and a laptop at least once per week. We’ve given nearly 300 laptops, tablets, and other devices to students to use for schoolwork. We train our volunteer tutors to use Digital Learning programs when working with our students, including adaptive programs that help students catch up in math and reading and coding and typing programs that teach essential digital literacy skills. We’ve also partnered with local organizations like Walnut Robotics to lead STEM workshops. 

We also provide technology to students for online tutoring. Our online tutors work with students remotely over audio/video chat on a variety of devices. This allows us to reach students in areas where we are not able to send in-person tutors, and provide specialized instruction to students who need extra help.

This year, Bel Air Internet generously provided free high-speed internet access to three shelters and our Skid Row Learning Center. This is huge for hundreds of our students, who would otherwise have to stay after school, go to a library, or buy something at a coffee shop just to get access to online assignments. We are excited to grow our partnership with Bel Air Internet to bridge the digital divide for our students.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to close the digital “homework gap” for students like ours. You can support a student experiencing homelessness by volunteering, donating, and spreading the word to your friends about School on Wheels.