PHOENIX — A new project from Arizona State University is helping connect students in low-income areas to the internet, helping them stay connected to school and their classes.
Throughout the pandemic, schools at times shut down classes due to COVID-19 cases or concerns and transitioned to virtual learning, where teachers and students interacted via Zoom or similar programs.
Connecting the internet becomes a necessity but in some low-income areas, that modern convenience suddenly becomes a luxury. This has been referred to as the "digital divide."
ASU's "One Square Mile" initiative allows households to connect to the internet at no cost to them. But, finding those households without internet access and encouraging them to sign up, can be a challenge.
One of the things we heard during the pandemic from our elementary school districts was that they were having trouble finding students during the virtual school from home," said Erik Cole, director of Design Studio for Community Solutions at ASU’s Watts College
As part of the program, college students go door-to-door in needy areas, such as Maryvale, which has a median household income of $37,000, compared to $70,000 for the rest of Phoenix, and ask families to sign up.
Nationwide, families in low-income areas have struggled to get their children online during remote learning models.
"Having the free Wi-Fi makes people feel a little more equal in a word that's so divided and it may seem like something small it really does make a huge difference," said Manuel Elizalde, who volunteers with the project and grew up in Maryvale.
According to Common Sense, a nonprofit organization, more than 336,000 students did not have reliable internet in Arizona in 2021.
"We know for education this is critical, but it's also critical for mental health, for wellness, for accessing healthcare," Cole said.
The goal is to help connect 200 families in Maryvale. From there, they will move to other communities in the state.
For families who live in Maryvale and are interested in finding out how to be part of the program, call 1-833-713-0649.
For those who do not live in Maryvale, you can visit connect-arizona.com.