The Classroom of the Future Foundation (CFF) is among a group of 10 local nonprofits to receive funding from The San Diego Foundation for their work on the frontline of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
CFF will use the $550,000 grant to provide the resources and support needed for school distance learning in the south, north, and eastern parts of San Diego County.
"Our research shows that approximately 100,000 students in the region lack access to the internet at home or are under-connected," said James Wright, chief executive officer of CFF. "This need is particularly acute among our most vulnerable student populations, including those who are in foster care, experiencing homelessness, in need of special education services, or who live in our most rural and remote corners of the county."
CFF will use the funds to support nearly 19,000 youth from low-income families by giving them access to connectivity at home so they can participate in digital distance learning. Specifically, the grant will fund:
- Mobile hotspots with connectivity for three months for 329 families with two or more students in the home.
- Low-cost broadband access for three months for 8,919 families with two or more students in the home.
- Chromebooks for 250 students from tribal communities in rural school districts.
"In today's day and age, having access to the internet should be seen the same as having access to electricity or to water. It's a basic utility. And it's a very powerful one," said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. "We are thankful to The San Diego Foundation for making this investment in closing the digital equity gap, which has been worsened by the pandemic."
The digital divide has real implications, and not only now that campuses have shifted to distance learning due to the pandemic. According to the Federal Communications Commission, students with access to the internet at home have a 6% to 8% higher rate of graduation, which would amount to nearly 40,000 more students in San Diego graduating with a diploma.
Establishing and sustaining connectivity for families in need comes with a cost that can be difficult for school districts to cover.
"From a technology perspective, it's safe to assume an average cost of $2,000 per student to provide a mobile device, internet connectivity, software costs, support and maintenance costs, and other secondary equipment and service costs," explained Dr. Patrick Gittisriboongul, chief innovation officer for the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE). "We recognize that access to technology is a critical component in supporting distance learning for our students and appreciate the support from The San Diego Foundation."
In addition to supporting connectivity and equipment, this grant will support the San Diego Equitable Distance Learning Task Force, a joint effort by CFF, San Diego for Every Child, and SDCOE to build a coalition of school districts, community partners, elected officials, and philanthropic leaders to bridge the digital divide.
To date, The San Diego Foundation's COVID-19 Community Response Fund has raised $16.8 million in donations through more than 3,200 individuals, businesses, foundations, and donor-advised funds, including an additional $1.5 million from San Diego Gas & Electric. Grants from the fund provide critical resources to San Diego County communities impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including individualized support for immigrants and refugees who have been unable to access emergency relief funding, as well as financial assistance for military and veteran families.