Editorial: Internet initiative a step to boost students in need
Can you imagine your child not having instant access to the Internet to do his or her homework today? It would be like trying to nail two boards together without using a hammer.
While most of us don't face such an inconvenience, there are some families in the suburbs for whom the Internet is a luxury. Finding a way to provide a leg up to those students may start in a Gurnee-area school parking lot.
Woodland Elementary District 50 soon will begin a plan to offer free 24-hour Wi-Fi hot spots in the parking lots of all five of its buildings.
It's the first step in a community Wi-Fi initiative District 50 expects to start this fall. School officials also hope to enlist the help of local businesses, such as fast-food restaurants, to allow students to connect to the Internet without needing to make a purchase.
That's a creative solution to a problem many families face, and one that aims to give students in need a valuable tool most of their peers take for granted.
Is the plan perfect? No. Obviously, it would be better for every student to have Internet access in their home. But it's a nudge in the right direction for those who don't have it, and an idea other districts may want to emulate, expand and improve.
It's no secret suburban schools are technology-driven these days. Whether it involves providing laptops or tablets to every student or putting homework assignments online, Internet access is as much a staple now as pens and paper were in generations past. But Internet connections carry a cost, and the fact is, as we documented in our recent Generations at Risk series of stories, if you're a student in a family that can't afford it, you are at a disadvantage in any grade level.
"We need to try to raise the equity bar, so that our kids that are living in difficult environments have the same kind of opportunities that our kids who are living in wealthier or average homes have," Steve Thomas, District 50's assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, told the Daily Herald's Bob Susnjara.
Boosting the district Wi-Fi signal to reach designated parking areas near main entrances at each building won't cost anything extra.
The password-protected signals, complete with the district's safety filters, will be available only to Woodland families and pupils.
It gives them a place to go to get fast and instant Internet access to look up information needed for a report or to complete an important homework assignment.
About 40 percent of District 50's 6,200 pupils are from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch and breakfast.
We know many suburban districts have students who face similar challenges.
Yes, this technology connection is in a parking lot, but it can be a start to leveling the education playing field for families in need.