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PHLConnectED has expanded its eligbility requirements to get more families hotspots as virtual school continues. Photo: Depositphotos
PHLConnectED has expanded its eligibility requirements to get more families hotspots as virtual school continues. Photo: Depositphotos

Philadelphia kicks off ‘PHLConnectED week,’ expands program eligibility for more families

PHLConnectEd was launched on Aug. 6, ahead of the beginning of the virtual school year.

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PHLConnectED is Philadelphia’s solution to the digital divide exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was launched in August and is a partnership between the city and a number of private and nonprofit institutions that provides free Internet hotspots for families in need across the city so their kids can still attend school.

As the novel coronavirus took hold of the city in March, the School District of Philadelphia had to adjust rapidly to a new reality of virtual school for its more than 200,000 students.

While some adjusted, others couldn’t afford to go to school virtually because of a lack of adequate technology or internet access.

According to statistics released by the city, PHLConnectED has helped more than 12,000 families connect since it launched. 

But the reality of the digital divide is still prevalent as virtual school trudges on into 2021, and could last until the end of the school year.

As schools enter their second digital marking period, the city has launched ‘PHLConnectED Week’ in an effort to get even more families connected for school ahead of the new year.

It has also expanded the program’s eligibility requirements for families. 

Initially, to be eligible to apply for a hotspot, families had to: have no broadband internet access, only have internet access through mobile phones, be experiencing homelessness, housing insecurity or be in between housing situations, or have a student complete their remote learning in a location without internet access.

Now, in addition to the initial eligibility requirements, families qualify if: they participate in public benefit programs with income qualifications, have students designated as English learners, and have students who receive special education services.

As part of the week starting on Monday, Dec. 14 and ending on Friday, Dec. 18, there will be increased outreach efforts through text, email and phone calls to families in need of connecting to the internet for school.

Families that still need to be connected are urged to call 211 and press 1 to learn more about the program, activate their internet enrollment codes or pick up their hotspots. 

In response to the program’s expansion, Superintendent William Hite said the district “remains committed to supporting the City and its work to help connect more families to reliable internet service.”

“We’ve long been aware of the inequities caused by the digital divide and PHLConnectED is a very real solution for us to close the gap and ensure that all children have access to the tools and resources required to successfully engage in digital learning,” he said.

The journalists behind the Broke in Philly collaborative (which AL DÍA is a part of) are also gathering responses from the public about PHLConnectED and issues around its implementation. They have put out a survey for all who can to fill out and provide feedback on the program.  

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.

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