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Hundreds of thousands of Arizona students caught in 'digital divide'

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Posted at 8:38 PM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 01:30:45-04

ABC15 is committed to getting families safely back to school and a big part of that is making sure you have the tools and resources needed to start remote learning. For hundreds of thousands of students in Arizona that is not the case.

FULL COVERAGE: Safely Back to School in Arizona

Providing access to computers and the internet is something Chicanos Por La Causa, or CPLC, does regularly, but when schools went online in the spring they say the need in the community skyrocketed.

"I'm happy that I finally get to go back to school but I’m kind of sad at the same time that it’s not going to be in person, it’s going to be online," said Cinthya Tizoc, who is about to start her junior year at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix.

Learning from home is not ideal for Tizoc, especially with four kids in the house sharing two computers.

Cinthya's mother, Nancy Lopez, said school closures were very difficult for the family because they did not have enough computers.

Eddie Roa has two daughters who share one device at home and spotty internet. His family is trying to stay afloat.

"Not having an income come in, it's been really hard to pay the bills," said Roa.

Just last month CPLC helped Roa's family with their APS bill.

"For many kids, school just stopped back in March," said Veronica Carrillo, CPLC's donor relations manager.

The organization's community center serves students from Carl Hayden High School, the Murphy and Isaac School Districts, where as many as 94 percent of families qualify for free or reduced lunch. Carrillo says the pandemic is only widening the "digital divide."

"This has been a problem that has exacerbated and created disparities in education for quite a long time," said Carrillo.

A recent report from Common Sense Media found more than 220,000 students in Arizona, or 19 percent, do not have devices at home for distance learning. More than 335,000, or 29 percent, lack adequate access to the internet and of those students, 56 percent are Black, Latinx or Native American.

CPLC is working to help parents like Eddie and Nancy by providing free computers. So far nearly 100 families have been served and fundraising is happening right now to help at least 300 more in the next couple of weeks. It is a small dent in a growing need.

"Within our programs we've already identified 2,000 other families at our domestic violence center, within the community center, that are needing computers, so the problem is much larger," said Carrillo.

Efforts are underway at the state level to provide more funding and resources for distance learning but with so much at stake, Carrillo says the time for action is now.

"These can be lifelong changes for a student," she said. "Things that are happening right now can make a difference in the long term for them."