NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk has secured grant funding to help bridge the digital divide, a joint venture described as a “huge step forward toward achieving universal (Internet) access” for Norwalk school children.
Survey results indicate 7-8 percent of Norwalk Public School families do not have access to high-quality, reliable Internet service and the new Connectivity Initiative will provide 1,000 families with access to high-speed internet at no-cost for one year, a press release said. It will ensure that the families are connected to digital literacy coaching, local housing, mental health, food, and other social service resources.
The joint effort is described thusly:
- The City has budgeted $150,000 to provide staff support for in-need families
- Dalio Education, a “a lead supporter of the Initiative,” is providing NPS with $315,000
- The Be Foundation is giving NPS a $50,000 grant
- NPS will contract with Altice/Optimum to provide high-speed internet to 1,000 Norwalk families
- The Per and Astrid Heidenreich Family Foundation and The Ritter Family Foundation have each provided grants of $125,000 to support the Community Services Department and the Family Navigators
“We know that access to the internet is critical for families and students, not only for distance learning, but for educational research, job opportunities, and social connections. We also understand that those lacking reliable internet service and access to needed social services are disproportionately people of color, people with low income, students with disabilities, and non- native English speakers. The Connectivity Initiative is designed to ensure our most vulnerable families have equitable access to vital services in Norwalk,” Rilling is quoted as saying.
He continued, “This Initiative would not be possible without the generous support of the philanthropic community, spearheaded by Dalio Education. The support of Barbara and her staff laid the groundwork for other supporters to sign on, including Altice/Optimum which will provide the internet connection. It is thanks to Barbara and her team that the Connectivity Initiative is coming to fruition.”
Although NPS has been lauded for its quick transition to distance learning in March due to the pandemic, COVID-19 made the digital divide obvious, Rilling said.
“As schools transitioned to digital learning this spring, we saw that some students had difficulty fully participating due to inadequate and frankly unequal access to educational resources. We saw students sitting outside of the library to connect to WiFi,” he is quoted as saying. “We also know that some families lack the basic knowledge required to navigate the various digital educational tools.”
“The Connectivity Initiative is structured in three tiers depending on family and student need,” the press release said:
- “Tier I provides reliable high-speed internet connection to those who currently lack service.
- “Tier II provides digital literacy support for families and students to effectively navigate virtual learning provided by Norwalk Public Schools.
- “Tier III provides families and students with personal Family Navigators through the City’s Community Services Department who will help them navigate the social services network and connect them with resources, such as food, health care, and housing.”
Barbara Dalio, Founder and Director of Dalio Education, is quoted as saying she is “thrilled” that the “creative collaboration is expanding connectivity for 1,000 school-aged children and their families in Norwalk.”
“Altice/Optimum have created a special discounted package for this Initiative and internet service provided to Norwalk families will be 100 Mbps with a hard-wired connection, ensuring the most reliable speeds,” the press release said. “The service will be underwritten by Norwalk Public Schools through the Dalio Education and Be Foundation grants. Installation is included in the dedicated package, and families will be able to contact Altice/Optimum directly for any customer support needs.”
Chromebooks, tablets and laptops were provided to every Norwalk schoolchild as the distance learning continued, and the “Connectivity Initiative will help ensure no student is without the tools or technical knowledge to navigate virtual learning,” the press release said. “Families who opt-in for distance learning, non-native English speakers, and families with low incomes will be prioritized.”
“When families lack a reliable, high quality connection to online resources and virtual learning, it puts their children at a disadvantage, especially in these challenging times,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella is quoted as saying. “On behalf of our students, we are grateful for the support, resources and commitment made today by all of the partners in this Initiative.”
“The Connectivity Initiative and supporting grants require Common Council approval,” the press release said. The Council is slated to vote on the items at its Tuesday evening, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Zoom and YouTube. Public comment is invited; for details click here.