The Grinnell Newburg School Foundation (GNSF), working with the Grinnell Education Partnership, announced a collaboration late last year with Windstream to assist families who cannot afford home internet access. The switch to online learning in November of 2020 posed a serious inequitable disadvantage for students who do not have reliable access to Wi-Fi at home. According to BroadBandNow.com, Iowa ranks 45th out of 50 states for internet affordability. Only 18.5% of the population has access to an internet plan costing $60 or less per month. This percentage is significantly lower than the national average of 51.5% of consumers with access to a low-priced plan.
To combat this digital divide, Jill Harris, the GEP VISTA Skills Gap Taskforce Coordinator, researched providers and established a discount rate with Windstream. This negotiated low-cost monthly rate covers everything needed for Wi-Fi connection including the router and installation. After 6 months, families with this coverage may choose to purchase the service month-to-month at the same low rate. This coverage also guarantees Wi-Fi speeds up to 25 Mbps and either fiber or DSL, whatever is the best available. The Grinnell Newburg School Foundation then stepped in to reimburse Windstream on behalf of the families in need to provide home internet access.
“GNSF started thinking about equitable internet access in March when all learning switched to remote learning. Since March, GNSF has covered the cost of 60 Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure kids had internet access at home. This partnership with Windstream levels the playing field even further for all children. The hotspots worked well for single learners at home but the new Wi-Fi access will support multiple learners and multiple Zoom meetings. We feel the 60 hotspots in addition to the home Wi-Fi for 20 more families will help eliminate barriers for many students.”
Liz Hansen, GNSF Executive Director
Once the collaboration with Windstream and GNSF was established, Harris worked with school staff to connect families to Windstream representatives. Then Hansen and Harris collaborated to secure additional support from the John Campbell Fund. The Grinnell City Council voted to allocate $5,000 from the to help bridge the digital divide. Thanks to this pledge, the GNSF Emergency Relief fund was able to support these families for the remainder of the 20-21 school year. The GNSF Board has since voted to financially support the currently connected families through the summer months. Additionally, families are also eligible to apply and/or reapply for this assistance in the fall.
GNSF is working closely with GNCSD schools to ensure needs are met. As school counselors and teachers identify internet access barriers, GNSF is seeking ways to help meet the needs. Donors that wish to support this effort can give to the GNSF Emergency Relief Fund online at www.Greaterpcf.org or send donations to GNSF Emergency Relief, PO Box 344, Grinnell, IA 50112. GNSF is a partner of Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation.