A coalition of Detroit businesses and philanthropic organizations today announced a plan to deliver a tablet with high-speed LTE internet connectivity along with technical support to every K-12 student in the Detroit Public Schools Community District before the end of the school year.
The program, part of a $23-million investment called Connected Futures, is designed as a first step in addressing digital inequity within the city of Detroit – an issue that has become exacerbated as students have to learn from home due to the COVID-19 crisis. The district estimates that 90 percent of its 51,000 students do not have access to a device and the internet.
Supporting organizations include DTE Energy Foundation, Detroit Public Schools Community District Kellogg Foundation, Quicken Loans, General Motors Co., and The Skillman Foundation. The district and the organizations have committed funding for the program over the last three weeks. The first six months of internet connectivity will be fully subsidized, during which time students will be transitioned to a low-cost, hard-wired connection.
“When our executive team began prioritizing COVID-19 relief efforts, the issue of digital inequity for Detroit students rose to the top,” says Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy. “We recognized that we needed to take action urgently to close the digital divide for these students and provide them with the tools necessary to thrive in the 21st century. Today, the Detroit community commits to our children’s futures. It’s time for us to level the playing field for the students of Detroit.”
The district says it went to great lengths to ensure that learning continued at home after schools closed in mid-March. However, the majority of students could not take advantage of online learning tools or connect with their teachers through video chat.
“This has been part of our long-term plan for DPSCD for three years, as we have invested in technology at schools, but these investments did not impact the lack of connectivity at home,” says Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the district. “The ability for our students to access the educational platforms that they use during the school day from home will elevate their learning year-round, not just during this crisis.
“We know that our children perform exponentially better during the school year, but when they return in September, they’ve lost much of their progress from the prior school year. We are sincerely grateful to DTE for leading the charge on this initiative and for the many funders who have come forward to support our students.”
Norcia says the program will benefit entire families who can use the internet to apply for jobs and financial assistance as well as take advantage of workforce development opportunities.
“This entire program, from conception to funding, came together in less than three weeks,” says Bill Emerson, vice chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Holdings Inc. “This is the power of our community when we’re faced with a big challenge. I believe this is a program that will be a catalyst for generations.”
Funders recognize that the issue applies to the city’s charter schools as well.
“This is the first tranche that we’re tackling,” says Tonya Allen, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation. “We’re already planning an expansion of this program to reach more than 36,000 children who attend other K-12 schools in the city. Digital access has evolved from a nicety to a necessity – and we cannot afford to let our children down. We invite businesses and other philanthropic organizations – big and small – to join us in this ongoing effort to lift up the children of Detroit.”
The district and DTE have committed a project manager to the initiative, and the district as well as the city of Detroit, DTE, Quicken Loans, and The Skillman Foundation have created a committee to oversee the initiative for the long-term. It will monitor data points and address issues that arise.
“When we look back to this time in 10 years, we will see that this moment changed the trajectory of education in our city,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “We have risen to the challenge of this pandemic and found a way to forge something positive for our children. This will be a defining moment of pride in Detroit for many, many years.”
To learn more about how to support Connected Futures, click here.