$1 million donation will provide students internet at home

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Up to 3,000 Catholic school students could get free high-speed internet access thanks to the Big Shoulders Fund, which on Dec. 1 announced a $1 million donation to allow the 70 under-resourced schools supported by the fund to participate in “Chicago Connected,” an initiative to provide broadband access at home to Chicago Public Schools students.

The donation from Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin and COO Gerald Beeson will allow families with children in Catholic schools supported by Big Shoulders to join their peers who attend CPS in accessing broadband service at home.

The four-year broadband access initiative aims to address the digital equity gap and help build a permanent public support system for families in Chicago.

Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan, Big Shoulders’ senior director of academic programs and external affairs, said the donation is enough to get all eligible students started. Big Shoulders will be responsible for continuing funding over the four-year term of the program, which operates through an agreement with Comcast.

“We provide a code to eligible families and they contact Comcast, who provides the service and bills us,” she said

While most Catholic schools are open for in-person learning five days a week, some families have opted for remote learning. All archdiocesan Catholic schools will move to remote learning for the two weeks after Christmas break, and several chose to use remote learning for some or all of the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been times when schools or individual classes that have been doing in-person instruction have had to shift to remote instruction overnight as well, Lindsay-Ryan noted.

“We do have a significant number of students doing school in person and a significant number learning remotely as well,” she said. “We thought it was a good time to roll this out.”

The program came just at the right time for the Academy of St. Benedict the African, which moved to remote learning on Nov. 30 and plans to return to in-person learning Jan. 19.

With the help of Big Shoulders, the school has been able to provide each of its 203 students with a device — a tablet or Chromebook, depending on grade level — but getting them reliable internet access proved more difficult.

“All the children have devices at home, but providing internet service is a little bit harder,” ASBA Principal Patricia Murphy said. “It’s definitely not one size-fits-all. We do have families who have all sorts of challenges.”

Families at ASBA have been hit hard by the pandemic, both with people becoming ill and with people losing jobs and income.

In the spring of 2020, when schools closed their doors to in-person learning because of the pandemic, several families were trying to use smart phones as hot spots to allow their children to access online instruction, Murphy said.

This fall, when the school surveyed families, most had internet access, but there were still several who did not.

“It was a small percentage of families, but they really needed it,” Murphy said.

Once families have broadband access, they can use it to meet needs beyond education, Lindsay-Ryan said, whether that means adults searching for jobs or working from home, or families having video calls with loved ones.

“It’s to provide the whole family access,” Lindsay-Ryan said. “The goal is first educational access. Then it is to help the whole family in terms of resources and support. The goal is to make it so there are no interruptions. We know that the digital equity divide is critical. This has obviously taught us that access to the internet at home is a critical need as well.”




  • catholic schools
  • big shoulders fund

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