The coronavirus pandemic has forced the closure of schools in Philadelphia where cable giant Comcast, with its headquarters in that city, already offers broadband internet access for students learning online. But what if low income student can't afford computers for distance learning, much less Internet access?
That's what happened when the School District of Philadelphia, faced with school closures amid the COVID-19 crisis, realized many grade school students didn't have access to technology out of school to start home-based online instruction.
The result had Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, his wife Aileen and their family coming forward with a $5 million donation to The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia to buy laptops for Philadelphia students facing school building closures lasting into the summer.
"The generous gift from Aileen and Brian Roberts and their family will help to transform the learning experience for thousands of Philadelphia's public school students who will now be able to access online educational resources from home. Our public schools belong to all of us and this is a great example of what's possible when we work together to improve educational supports for all of our young people. I am grateful for their generosity," superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. said in a statement.
According to a 2019 School District survey, only half grade 3 to 12 students in Philadelphia have the equipment needed to start online lessons.
The Roberts’ family financial support will help purchase 50,000 Chromebooks, made by Google, so students who attend the 220 District-led public schools across Philadelphia can learn at home.
"We’re living in an unprecedented time and COVID-19 is presenting our society with new challenges every day. When we heard that many Philadelphia students weren’t going to be able to learn from home without laptops, we quickly decided we wanted to help and provide these teachers, parents and students with the technology they need to begin learning online within just a few weeks. In good times or bad, now all of our Philadelphia students will have access to technology to help them succeed," Aileen and Brian Roberts said in their own statement.
The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia is a non-profit charity acts as a conduit for private sector contributions to the Philadelphia school system to meet the needs of students and teachers.
"We are the only philanthropic organization that works directly with school leadership to align the investments of partners—private foundations, corporations and businesses, community organizations and individual donors—with the strategies that will impact the success of students attending our neighborhood public schools," the Fund says on its website.
The non-profit in better times looks to support early child literacy, safe schools and high school redesigns.
But the Fund has now had to step in as Philadelphia face a city-wide closure of its schools during the coronavirus pandemic as a safety precaution.
The 50,000 new laptops will be distributed to students and their families, likely in mid-April, along with the estimated 40,000 laptops already in school buildings.
"The Fund is delighted to be the recipient of this most generous gift. We will do our part to implement this much needed and appreciated gift," Donna Frisby Greenwood, president and CEO for The School District of Philadelphia, said in a statement.
And students and their families who can't afford internet access can get two free months of broadband access through Comcast's Internet Essentials program.
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