Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Guest column:

Jesus Jara: Our kids deserve tools to succeed

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Christopher DeVargas

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara speaks with the Las Vegas Sun regarding the issues facing the school district, Friday June 14, 2019.

Nowhere is the internet more important than in education.

Administrators, educators and parents everywhere have recognized that the internet is an indispensable vehicle for learning and discovery. Once seen as a luxury, access to the internet now is an outright imperative and a fundamental resource for education.

While broadband adoption across the United States is on the rise, the percentage of households with children ages 6-17 who do not have an internet connection may surprise you. According to the Pew Research Center, 15% of all households with school-age kids do not have internet. That figure climbs to 23% for Hispanics and 25% for African Americans.

In response, the Federal Communications Commission challenged the telecommunications industry to help close the gap in broadband adoption. For this reason, the cable industry and other providers of internet began providing low-income populations with affordable access to the internet. In most cases, applicants seeking reduced-rate internet must meet certain federal guidelines — for example, enrollment in assistance programs like food stamps, supplemental security income or federal public housing assistance.

Admittedly, the Clark County School District is not immune to this income-based digital divide, where some households have internet access and others do not. For the 2017-18 school year, 63% of our students qualified for the National School Lunch Program. What’s more, for the current school year, at 82 CCSD schools, as much as 90-100% of students receive free and reduced-price lunch through the federal program. We estimate the broadband adoption among our low-income students is on average no better than the numbers we’re seeing from the Pew Research Center.

The CCSD Board of School Trustees and I recently released Focus: 2024, the five-year strategy for student success. What it boils down to is that every single thing we do in this district must support rich and rigorous learning. Internet access supports that effort, as it is an indispensable component of achieving the success we want for our kids. Fortunately, however, good community partners like Cox Communications are already doing that.

In 2012, Cox launched Connect2Compete, a program designed to bridge the digital divide by providing an internet connection for $9.95 per month to qualified low-income residents with at least one child in K-12. As an education advocate, Cox has been working with our School-Community Partnership Program, school administrators and educators to help ensure eligible families hear about the program and act to get their households connected.

The effectiveness of the Cox program is eye-opening: 91% of parents with Connect2Compete say having internet service at home gives their children a leg up for high school graduation; 89% feel that a connection to the internet helps their students achieve higher grades and 95% believe having in-home internet access makes it easier to communicate with teachers and the school.

Margarita G. believes access to the internet at home not only makes a difference in her son’s scholastic performance but also gives her family the overall feeling of being connected to life. She was one of the first Connect2Compete subscribers in the Las Vegas area. At one time, Margarita and her son walked a mile to the nearest community library to get online access, do homework together and research information pertaining to their medical needs. With Connect2Compete in their home for the past six years, she says her son turned around his grades — he now gets As and Bs — and that his academic curiosities have been nourished many times over.

Having the tools needed to compete in today’s classroom really makes a difference. But it begins at home, where our students can focus on their school work, explore their interests and gain the knowledge and skills needed to thrive during the school year.

I was extremely pleased to hear that broadband service providers around the country have been making reduced-rate internet available to qualified low-income populations. And I’m inspired by the approach Cox is taking to bridge the digital divide. If only more underserved families knew about this tremendous opportunity. As a caring community, perhaps we could all pitch-in to help let them know.

Jesus Jara is superintendent of the Clark County School District.