With the school year starting 100 percent online, having a good internet connection at home is going to be more necessary than ever.
But some households, especially those that are low income, have trouble securing what many others take for granted — according to a Joan Ganz Cooney Center 2016 report, nearly a quarter of families below the median income level and one third of those below the poverty level only have internet access through a smartphone, which can get complicated when data caps are reached or devices have to be shared.
The same study notes that families of color, most notably recent immigrants to the U.S., have a much higher rate of mobile-only internet access.
That’s why Enumclaw resident and mother of an Enumclaw School District student Megan Sheridan put together a Facebook fundraiser to raise money to make sure low-income students, students of color, and students with 504 plans or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) don’t just have reliable internet access, but any supplies or aid they may need.
The goal is to raise $10,000 so that money for internet and supplies can be used throughout the whole school year. As of Monday, Aug. 10, more than $3,700 had already been raised.
In a recent interview, Sheridan said she talked to Enumclaw School District staff and families about how well supplied and prepared these target students were when schools started online last spring after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a disaster,” she said, adding that she’s heard stories of students on 504 or IEP plans receiving zero support from the school, and low-income students or students of color lacking appropriate internet access for online learning. “We need to make sure that we have extra funds that are in place to support these families, and not rely on the school. The school is having to take money that they weren’t anticipating to make adjustments, so we need to figure it out, step up as a community and help these families get their kids the education and support they need. Bottom line.”
For increased internet access, Sheridan wants to work with Comcast and their Internet Essentials program, which gives low-income families two free months of internet if they apply by Dec. 31, 2020. After those two months, rates increase to $9.95 per month plus tax.
“What I would like is to pre-pay for the school year with these donations,” she said, “so students can access their teachers and their school work like every other student can.”
And for school supplies, Sheridan and district staff are putting together “wish lists” so that Sheridan can buy supplies with donation money, hand them over to the district, and let the district give them to the students that need them.
“Typically, if we’ve got families that can’t purchase supplies and they get into the classrooms, there are additional community supplies for them to use,” Sheridan said. “If it’s markers needed for elementary, or calculators needed for the high school, that’s what we will purchase. Or we’ll do gift cards. We’ll figure it out.”
Enumclaw’s new superintendent, Dr. Shaun Carey, said he will be meeting with Sheridan this week to fill in those details.
“We as a district appreciate her desire to support our students,” he wrote in an email. “The Enumclaw School District is hyper-aware of how students are being impacted and we are focusing our efforts on the specific needs of all students.”
For more information, or to donate money, head to www.facebook.com/donate/295649778307763/.