Kbraye-Wireless at Home

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COLUMBIA - Discounted internet service, at-home media learning, and bridging the "digital divide" are a few of the benefits provided by the Wireless at Home initiative. The program is a partnership between Columbia Public Schools (CPS) and Mediacom Communications.

CPS gives high school students laptops and fifth through eighth graders iPads to take home to use for homework and learning.

Chris Diggs, CPS Director of Technology Services, says this program is about "equity and accessibility."

She says students who don't have internet access are losing out on valuable learning skills in the digital age.

"There is a gap called the digital divide between those who have internet access and those who don't. The terminology used to have a different definition, between who had a device and who didn't. More school districts are going for a more personalized learning program (where we provide devices) it's changed the definition of digital divide," Diggs said.

Organizers launched the program in the 2017-2018 school year. According to Diggs, 59 CPS high school students are enrolled in the program. The board of education hopes to expand the program and encourage more families who qualify to let CPS help them apply.

They also plan to allow fifth through eighth graders the opportunity to apply for the program, which CPS hopes will begin in the 2018-2019 school year. 

Parents who are eligible have to go through CPS to start the application process and school officials are available to help.

The internet access would only work on school devices, and an online filter is installed to make sure students only access child-appropriate websites.

Stephanie Adams, aunt of a CPS middle schooler, feels this program is very beneficial for students. 

"I think it's a good thing. Students need access to the Internet as well and it gives parents a chance that don't have the money to fund something for their kids. That will help them learn as well as help them see what their kids see at school," Adams said.

Diggs said the Wireless at Home initiative has made a big impact.

"We had one family story where a student was driving to the public library to complete some assignments. So it's made a huge difference. Hearing stories like that is very powerful, to know that we've made something significantly better for that student," she said.

Diggs says the board of education is meeting in June to finalize a budget to expand the program for middle school students.