Stand Spotlight: Lafayette Parish Connecting Students
The Coronavirus pandemic has required – and will continue to require - innovation, partnership, and leadership to meet the needs of families and students. While many districts are working hard to ensure 1:1 devices for every student and close the digital divide, no one can argue that we were prepared as a state for a pandemic that forced students and educators to rely solely on virtual teaching and learning. We were not ready – and we are now playing catch up to get students connected and educators prepared to ensure quality learning through either hybrid or virtual only models. There are some shining examples of innovation, partnership, and leadership in Louisiana. And we’re excited to bring you the first of many features that can provide examples of what it looks like to move swiftly and creatively to close the digital divide.
When the Pandemic forced school online, leaders in Lafayette acted quickly to find innovative ways to offer families free - or affordable - internet access to bridge the digital divide for the thousands of children without access to internet.
Through the leadership of The Schumacher Family Foundation, One Acadiana, The Pugh Family Foundation, and LPSS, low-cost internet options were quickly made available to qualifying families from three area providers. By pulling together stakeholders, community leaders, and the business community to work together for kids, a plan was quickly put in place to bridge the digital divide through the Link & Learn Initiative.
Leaders and stakeholders in Acadiana recognized quickly that barrier to internet and device access would only widen the inequity gaps that already exist in our current education system. Through innovation and the flexible use of emergency dollars - through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), and capital outlay dollars - the school system, with the help of donations and hard work have been able to adopt short term fixes that connect children with the internet access they need to continue to receive instruction.
With virtual learning continuing for many, the same coalition has worked to get creative in how they’re reaching and connecting families including outfitting busses with open Wi-Fi that will bring the connection to families, community hot-spots, and others.
In early August the LPSS Board voted to approve $1.5M in funding to support the following short-term solutions:
- Home based connections for roughly 7,000 qualifying students
- A Link & Learn help desk to support parents and families looking to get online and troubleshooting internet and devices
- Mobile Hot Spots for those children experiencing homelessness and frequent moves
- Community based Link and Learn access
- LPSS School Wi-Fi Parking Lot Connectivity
- 42 Mobile Wi-Fi Busses
But the work doesn’t stop there, if COVID-19 has revealed anything for the education community, it’s the need for a long-term solution to ensure safe and stable internet access for all children. The coalition is working to secure funding for a free academic network parish overlay that will allow children to access free, filtered, and secure internet access anywhere in the city for students to use for academics.
Once successfully created, Lafayette will become the first, and only district, in the country to offer universal, free, academic internet access for all students and families. Now, more than ever, true educational equity must include free and open internet access for all students.
If you are working to secure free internet or upgrade current network infrastructures, visit Education Superhighway for a free toolkit, resources, templates, and road maps for closing the digital divide through the existing E-Rate program and dollars. You can also contact us at Stand Louisiana by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to support your efforts to get students and families connected!