Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite announced Thursday that the district plans to distribute internet "hotspot" devices to students who are already getting Chromebook laptops.
The hotspot devices will allow students without internet access to tap into the web with their Chromebooks to begin virtual learning classes. Those lessons are scheduled to begin May 4.
The district is working on a deadline to put the new tools into use. It aims to have its students begin what it calls “formal digital learning plans” on Monday, April 20.
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The district doesn't know exactly how many of its students lack internet access in their homes. A 2019 survey by the district found that more than 40 percent of students in grades 3-12 don’t have access to the internet from a computer at home.
“We do have some mobile hotspots that we can also deploy and loan, just as we are loaning the Chromebooks,” Dr. Hite said.
Hite did not say how many hotspot devices are available to be given out, but noted students who stay in homeless shelters would get top priority.
“Hopefully, we’ll have enough to meet the need. I doubt it," Hite said. "That’s why we have to prioritize them for the families that are most in need."
Those who can’t access learning through the web will have another, old-fashioned option.
“We are going to continue printing some packets of material that we feel we need to have in the event individuals are not able to utilize any of the resources that we have provided,” said Dr. Hite.
“It will be a review of previously covered material and enrichment. It’s going to be teacher-led to reinforce the learning that students got earlier this year,” Dr. Hite said.
Dr. Hite said teachers plan to introduce new material and grade students’ assignments over the internet, starting May 4.
The district hasn’t specified how many students have accessed their Chromebooks. On March 26, it announced the Board of Education approved the district’s $11 million request to buy up to 50,000 Chromebooks for students who don’t have access to technology.
Nearly half of that money is coming from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who last month announced that he and his family were donating $5 million toward Chromebooks for city students. The company also made its low-cost internet access program, Internet Essentials, free for 60 days for new families and $9.95 a month after, if they choose to keep the service.
Hite said the district and its schools are still in the process of distributing the Chromebooks. Some schools are handing them out, but the school district said it was planning to set up two locations where families can pick up the devices by Friday, April 17.
The school district also wants students and their families to know that there are dozens of free WiFi hotspots throughout the city in which computer users can access the internet for free. HERE is a link to explain how hotspots work and where they can be found.