GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) has partnered with five community partners to provide free mobile hot spots to students without internet access, officials said Monday, Sept. 28.
The new service expands internet access to students and their families as they navigate distance and hybrid learning.
“With the expansion of virtual education across the city due to COVID-19, it’s imperative that we confront the digital equity gap,” said Jessica Anne Bratt, Youth Services Supervisor at the library, in a news release.
“Students without access to high-speed internet experience an immeasurable disadvantage during distance learning. Providing hot spots to neighborhoods with high need promotes equitable learning opportunities.”
Grand Rapids Public Schools started the school year online-only but parents have until 11:59 p.m. tonight to complete a commitment form, regarding whether they want to continue virtually or transition to a hybrid model in which students would attend class in-person two days a week.
Related: Mandatory masks, 50% classroom sizes: Grand Rapids Public Schools details hybrid learning plan
Library leaders teamed up with the Urban League, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities – Cook Arts Center, Baxter Community Center, HQ – Runaway & Homeless youth Drop-in Center, and the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative to lend 100 mobile hot spots across Grand Rapids to households that lack high-speed internet connection.
Mobile hot spots can deliver strong and secure internet connection from anywhere. .
Over time, community members have expressed the need for better access to the internet for themselves and their family, so library officials asked “how can we make that happen?” said Steffanie Rosalez, CEO of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities Cook Arts Center.
Rosalez said this need was exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She said her organization got 10 hot spots from the library.
“We are embarking on a new way of life and living with the pandemic and … its brought forth a huge need for bridging the digital divide,” Bratt said.
Bratt said this initiative will especially help families with children who attend early childhood centers, as opposed to grade schools, and cannot receive loaner devices from the school.
While the project was in the works before the pandemic, consequences of COVID-19 such as the increase in distance learning, added a sense of urgency, said Rosalez.
“We’re excited, they’re one of our close partners who we just love working with,” she said. “We’ve been trying to work out logistics … for a long time but (the pandemic) just pushed things along.”
The devices were secured as the fall semester began for most students, great timing for the initiative to take off, according Bratt.
All of the neighborhood organizations are said to actively engage and serve a large population of tech-disadvantaged households and residents
The library and the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation worked for roughly a year to secure over $30,000 to purchase the mobile hot spots.
Rosalez said there have been ongoing community conversations with officials about the hope of implementing an “internet for all model” which would include internet access points throughout the city to increase equity and access to information.
“We do have a lot of families who are disconnected and don’t get updated information … there’s that idea that we’re all walking around with computers in our pockets but we’re not all,” she said.
“We are really excited and hope that this becomes very commonplace … and that people can have better up-to-date information, especially during the pandemic when it comes to health and safety.”
The library and its foundation are seeking additional funding to distribute devices through a variety of community partners in the future, including agencies who support adults up to 65 years of age as opposed to strictly families and youth.
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