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KC library and public schools team up to give 25 students home Internet access

The Kansas City Public Library is partnering with Kansas City Public Schools and a few nonprofits to provide 25 district families with free mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for the coming school year.
The Kansas City Public Library is partnering with Kansas City Public Schools and a few nonprofits to provide 25 district families with free mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for the coming school year. The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Public Library will be checking out 25 free mobile hot spots to Kansas City Public Schools students for the 2015-2016 school year in August, bringing the Internet into the homes of kids and families on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Every student in the district has access to computers at school, and middle and high schoolers can bring their loaned laptops home, district spokesman Ray Weikel said.

But 70 percent of district students don’t have Internet access at home. That cuts them off from online textbooks, assignments and help from teachers or tutors, said Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, the library’s deputy director of strategic initiatives.

“It creates a homework gap for the kids in the district,” she said.

And an equally wide gap for their parents and adult relatives in nearly every other aspect of life.

“As we become an increasingly digital society, you really need to be conversant with today’s tools to be a full participant,” said Aaron Deacon, managing director at KC Digital Drive, a nonprofit encouraging Kansas City to become a leader in digital innovation.

“If you don’t, you’re kind of shut out.”

For example, Deacon said it can be difficult to get a job. More than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies require online applications, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The library hopes that adults will take advantage of computer training offered by Literacy Kansas City to complete those applications and help their children with homework when they need it.

“We’re trying to open the door for both the caretaker and the child,” Kositany-Buckner said.

The library is partnering in the new effort with the district and local nonprofits Literacy Kansas City and Connecting for Good. It received the hot spots and an equal number of laptops through a grant from Mobile Beacon, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit that provides low-cost Internet services across the country.

Michael Liimatta, CEO and co-founder of Connecting for Good, which sells discounted hot spots to low-income Kansas City families, noted an additional advantage the devices offer to low-income families that wired services such as Google Fiber can’t.

“Forty percent of (public school) kids move during the school year,” Liimatta said. “But they can move and take their hot spot with them.”

To reach Austin Huguelet, call 816-234-4298 or send email to dhuguelet@kcstar.com.

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