KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A major grant will soon provide free internet service for nearly 7,000 Kansas City, Kansas Public School students. It comes at a critical time, as the district is currently learning 100-percent online.
“We listened. We heard you. We’ve been working on this. We’re one step closer to hopefully solving this big problem for so many students,” said Sharita Hutton, KCKPS communications director.
This summer, thousands of laptops, tablets and WiFi hotspots were doled out to metro students to help them connect with virtual school this fall.
“Last year, once everyone went virtual in March, we kind of had to do a little bit of survey to basically see how many families needed assistance with technology number one, and of course the hotspots. A lot of people did not have internet access in their homes,” Hutton said.
At the start of this school year, KCK gave out 4200 hotspots to families in need. But problems have persisted.
“The hotspot they gave, it works when it wants to, then it don’t,” said JoAnna Scharschell, KCKPS parent.
The district says hotspots have two major issues: there’s a data cap, and once it’s hit, the devices might not work well. As that’s happened, students just don’t log on. In fact, some KCKPS students haven’t attended a single class since school started September 8.
“That’s not just frustrating for the parent, it’s frustrating for the teacher who knows they want to see that young kid’s face and wants to be able to help them and educate them,” Hutton said.
JoAnna Scharschell is a single mom and simply cannot afford to pay for her own home interent. So she is forced to send her 14-year-old high school freshman to a family member’s home, where there’s a hard-wired connection.
“She wants to do good in school and get good grades and she needs the internet to do the school,” Scharschell said.
She is beyond thankful that the KCKPS school board has now approved a partnership with communications provider Spectrum. Spectrum has a grant that will cover free home internet to 6,600 KCKPS households.
“I actually cried last night and I’m like—she could come home. I called and told my daughter and said, ‘You can come home when we get internet.’ She said, ‘Okay mom!’ And she was happy,” Scharschell said.
JoAnna plans to keep her immuno-compromised teen home with virtual school a while and with free home internet coming October 15, her daughter can connect much easier.
KCKPS knows even once it starts to bring students back in-person, some families will still want remote learning and internet connectivity will continue to be vital for getting homework and research done.
The grant to provide free internet runs through the end of this year and the district is hoping to find funding to continue providing the service after that.