While educators are still figuring out the best ways to use the Internet in the classroom, one thing is universally clear: the Internet is the future of learning. As Deputy Superintendent for Aurora Public Schools in Colorado, I have seen how this powerful tool has ushered in a new wave of skills that are essential for students to be successful in the 21st Century. But I also see the disparity that lack of access to the Internet at home is now causing for far too many.
Today’s classroom is a far cry from chalkboards and textbooks. In fact, we can’t view the four walls of a classroom as where learning begins and ends anymore. For many educators, we now look beyond the physical school location to the Internet as a means of providing students with further information and new assignments and to track grades and progress. It has become a tool that allows us to break down the clocks and calendars that can sometimes inhibit learning and provide students the opportunity to study further on their own time at home -- and in ways they may be better suited to learn.
But as a school district where 73 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced priced school lunch, many families simply cannot afford to have the Internet at home. Meaning they cannot access the online supplemental reading assigned, cannot turn in term papers online and cannot communicate electronically with fellow students when group projects require collaborating outside of the classroom. Nor can their parents stay on top of their academic performance by monitoring grades online.
As educators, we have to do everything we can to get students connected to the Internet at home, to close not just the digital divide but also the widening achievement gap. This is a significant reason why our school district supports Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which provides in-home Internet service for $9.95 a month, plus options for low-cost computers and digital literacy training, for students eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program.
The Aurora School District has repeatedly encouraged our many eligible students to sign up for Internet Essentials. We have distributed flyers, advertised in our local newspapers, promoted Internet Essentials online via parent resource sites and social media, and even hosted a webinar for principals and teachers so they could learn more about the program and spread the word to their students. Just like Comcast, we are committed to doing our part to help close the digital divide in our communities.
This fall, in Aurora and school districts all across the country, the most important thing parents can offer their children as they go back to school is the power of the Internet at home. One way of ensuring more families can give their children this critical tool is through Internet Essentials.