Many people assume everyone has access to technology, but unfortunately it’s just not the case. Our Economic Development Workforce Development Manager Jake Maxwell shares his thoughts on that and how one school district in Utah is now bridging that need. Read on and as always, we’d love to hear your feedback.

I had the opportunity to attend the Utah Digital Summit today, put on by the Governors Office of Economic Development. I thought I would relay some impressions that stood out if you didn’t have a chance to attend.

As I keep pushing for our businesses to get involved with schools as early as grade school to begin sparking an interest in careers, access to the internet is still in an issue. Yes, Salt Lake City boasts Google Fiber and is currently 1 of 2 test cities for 5G, but we need to stop supposing everyone has a smart phone and internet access at home. Scott McCombs, IT Director for Canyons School District shared some of their programming that bolsters access for students and families who otherwise would not have internet connectivity at home. This is not an infrastructure issue, but a cost issue. Working with T-Mobile and their grant programs, Canyons School District was able to purchase Chromebooks with filtered hotspots for students who need them. The intention is that these devices stay home and benefit the whole family. This project is in it’s early stages, but early benchmarks can point to increased reading comprehension as a result of students having this access, being able to do homework at home through the device, and having access to the tools they need. Canyons is a mostly affluent school district, but also houses the Midvale Homeless Shelter for families. These devices have also made their way into the shelter with the knowledge there is great risk they may move with kids who have to pick and go last minute, or could be lost by other means as a result of being in a shelter environment.

Examples like this send a clear signal to families who might be cost burdened by rent, face income insecurity and many other factors. This says “you are not only welcome in this district, but we will take it upon ourselves to remove barriers to access the same opportunity for success as any other student.” Unfortunately, I don’t normally have much confidence that our low income and underrepresented families are normally feeling this level of support.

All school districts were not represented in this discussion and I am curious to see how the other districts are leveraging funding from the Utah State Board of Education for Digital Inclusion. Maybe more to come!