Lisa Maxwell remembers when pencils, textbooks and a calculator were just about the only requisites students needed to get homework done. But Maxwell, who is Executive Director of the non-profit Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Oregon (BGCCO), says success in and outside the classroom now depends on a new tool of student achievement: broadband Internet access.
“There is no way for a child to succeed anymore without it,” says Maxwell. “It’s not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity. You have to have it.”
The problem is, too many kids don’t. And in Maxwell’s view, they’re at risk of being left behind in an education environment that’s increasingly tied to digital technology and information access.
To help, the BGCCOis teaming with the Central Oregon cable company BendBroadband in a program designed to narrow the digital divide for hundreds of students who attend a local Boys and Girls Club. BGCCO is working to identify at-risk kids, outfit their homes with computing equipment provided by BendBroadband, and sign them up for a steeply discounted ($9.95 a month) broadband access service BendBroadband is making available.
The program is one of hundreds of “Connect2Compete” initiatives across the U.S. that are bringing together cable companies with community organizations to help make broadband more accessible and affordable to students and families with special needs.
“It’s about making a difference – because we can,” says Amy Tykeson, President and CEO of BendBroadband. Tykeson believes broadband is an enabler of essential life-management tasks, ranging from school work to job applications to health care management. Without a high-speed connection to the Internet, students in particular face enormous disadvantages in research, communicating with teachers and handling even routine academic tasks, Tykeson says.
There’s more at stake than just getting tomorrow’s homework turned in, says Jim Schell, the Development Director of the Central Oregon-based Partnership to End Poverty. He thinks broadband is a critical tool not just for success in school, but for enabling kids and families to rise above economic hardship.
“Most people recognize that education is the No. 1 issue for helping to prevent poverty,” says Schell, whose organization helped bring BendBroadband and BGCCO together to implement the Connect2Compete program. Broadband Internet access, says Schell, has enormous potential for improving education opportunities. Access to lessons and instruction is just part of the picture, however.
After BGCCO connects families with broadband and computers, the organization is monitoring student’s progress through detailed achievement testing and tracking of homework completion rates. The job requires diligent work from staff and volunteers, but Maxwell has high hopes that the pilot program initiated in 2012 can make a positive difference – and be replicated across other Boys and Girls Club facilities.
Making it work requires a dedicated technology partner, and Maxwell says BendBroadband is all that and more. “There is a huge commitment on BendBroadband’s part to make this happen,” she says.
Even so, Connect2Compete is just one example of the cable company’s resolve to narrow the digital divide in the communities it serves. Among examples: With financial assistance from the U.S. government’s Broadband Technology Assistance Program, BendBroadband has extended its fixed-wireline network to several rural communities, providing anchor healthcare, public safety and education institutions with high capacity broadband and connectivity between their facilities throughout the region. BendBroadband also is the first cable company in the U.S. to build a fixed-wireless data network using 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology that makes broadband speeds of up to 12 megabits per second available to homes on the outskirts of small towns like La Pine and Sisters.
Tykeson says finding ways to extend broadband’s reach is a responsibility her company is willing to accept. “The jury’s still out on the economics,” she says. “But for these customers in low density areas, this is their first true broadband experience. It’s the right thing to do.”