Philadelphia students out of the classroom due to the coronavirus pandemic are getting access to virtual learning thanks to a $5-million donation from a famous business leader and his family.
Aileen and Brian Roberts, and their family, gave the gift to the Philadelphia School District to get up to 50,000 Chromebook laptop computers into the hands of students, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia announced Friday.
The Comcast chairman and CEO and his wife covered nearly half of the $11 million the school district on Thursday said it needs to even the playing field for learning in Philadelphia where computer access and internet connectivity lags other communities.
“When we heard that many Philadelphia students weren’t going to be able to learn from home without laptops, we quickly decided we wanted to help and provide these teachers, parents and students with the technology they need to begin learning online within just a few weeks,” the Roberts said in a news release. "In good times or bad, now all of our Philadelphia students will have access to technology to help them succeed.”
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The gift helps close the gap for Philadelphia’s students and makes learning possible by mid-April.
"The generous gift from Aileen and Brian Roberts and their family will help to transform the learning experience for thousands of Philadelphia's public school students who will now be able to access online educational resources from home," Superintendent William Hite, Jr. said.
The district had not been requiring students to do distance learning at home since so many of them have no computers or internet access.
A 2019 survey by the District found that only 45% of students in grades 3-5, 56% of students in grades 6-8 and 58% of students in grades 9-12 have access to the internet from a home computer.
The school district’s fund explained how these 50,000 new laptops along with 40,000 already in the possession of the district and households will be divvied out in mid-April:
“Once the equipment is received at the School District headquarters, it will be dispensed between April 13 and 17. During the interim two weeks, the laptops will be prepared for the students and the Philadelphia School District teachers will be trained to support distance learning.”
The gift came at a time of need for Philadelphia’s educational system. Pennsylvania schools that have been closed for nearly two weeks face a new challenge — legislation requiring them to "make a good faith effort" to continue to educate children.
Schools have to submit their plans to the state Education Department, and it's already causing some to consider creative approaches, according to Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
The law, which passed both legislative chambers late Wednesday, will be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in the coming days, his spokeswoman said.
It directs the Education Department to provide guidance to all school entities, and the department has previously said there are options. Schools can go forward with "planned instruction," teaching new material much as they were before the COVID-19 shutdown.
As noted by the Philly school district, Comcast is also making Xfinity WiFi free for everyone – even non-subscribers. Here is a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots.
Comcast is the parent company of this NBC station.