A low-cost, high-speed Internet plan officially rolled out by Comcast Tuesday was greeted warmly by school officials who said it will help students academically — and could boost parent involvement.
“You have to have Internet access,” said Eric Leslie, principal of the KIPP School at 2709 N. Broad St. “And for so many of our kids, that’s limited.”
Comcast officials visited the North Philadelphia school Tuesday — the first day for public schools and the first full day of school of KIPP students — to talk to some of the students who can enroll in the plan and their teachers.
About 90 percent of the school’s 350 middle school students are African American and 10 percent Latino. The vast majority, 90 percent, qualify for free or reduced price lunches making them eligible for Comcast’s plan, called Internet Essentials, which includes broadband Internet service for $9.95 a month — as long as a family has a school-aged child in the house — and the option to purchase a laptop computer for $149.
School officials estimated that only 25 percent of students at the school had access to a computer and the Internet at home.
“If more of our kids have access to the Internet in their homes and have access to computers in their homes, this is only going to mean good things,” said Marc Mannella, KIPP Schools CEO. “They have access to technology when they’re here, but for too many of our kids that can’t continue when they’re at home.”
Leslie pointed to a math program called Math First as an example.
It’s a game that helps students with their math skills. Teachers can monitor students’ scores and tailor the games they can play to their needs. Prizes are given according to score.
Every student at the school has an account and can play during scheduled time in the computer lab — but it’s the kids with greater access and who can spend more time online that see the greatest improvement in their skills.
“The hard fact is, the kids with the Internet are the ones winning those medals,” noted Leslie.
Internet access provides many other opportunities too.
Students can improve typing, reading, research and critical thinking skills and more.
“It’s video game design, all the skills our kids will need that we can’t predict,” Leslie said.
An estimated 150,000 students in Philadelphia schools are eligible for the program.
“Now more than ever, access to assignments, grades and other classroom information is offered online — and those who can tap into home computers and the Web are at a distinct advantage,” said Leroy Nunery, Acting Superintendent.
Internet access can also help parents.
KIPP takes part in a program called PowerSchool that allows parents to track the children’s activities in school to check in on things like completed homework assignments, grades and attendance.
Comcast officials said they hoped the program would begin to help close the education gap.
“There is no doubt that the Internet is a great equalizer and life-changing technology — and being connected to the Internet is critically important to society, our youth and our future,” said CEO Brian Roberts. “This program can help low-income American families get online so they can take advantage of all the Internet has to offer.”
A study released in January by the Pew Research Center noted a shift in the digital divide, a lack of access among ethnic groups. Access to the Internet is growing through cell phone use, which is about equal among whites, Blacks and Latinos — but Blacks and Latinos have less access to high speed connections that are of growing importance in the modern world, the report found.
“Some see a new ‘digital divide’ emerging,” noted the report. “It’s tough to fill out a job application on a cell phone, for example. Researchers have noticed signs of segregation online that perpetuate divisions in the physical world. And Blacks and Latinos may be using their increased Web access more for entertainment than empowerment.”
According to the report, 51 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of Blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33 percent of whites. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41 percent of Blacks use their phones for email, compared with 30 percent of whites.
In addition, the report found a greater percentage of whites than Blacks and Latinos have broadband access at home.
Comcast will promote the plan for the next three years, and families that sign up during that period will be able to lock in the $9.95 price for as long as they have a child in school and remain part of the National Free Lunch Program.
Ultimately, the program will be available in 39 states. Comcast estimated that as many as 2.5 million families would be eligible to participate.
For more information, visit www.internetessentials.com for English or www.internetbasico.com for Spanish. Parents looking to enroll in the program can call 1-855-846-8376 or, for Spanish, 1-855-765-6995.