The COVID -19 pandemic has raised alarming concerns for students – especially poor students in Baltimore. These children lack digital equipment and Internet connectivity, while also facing food scarcity, due most recently to an inability to access the regular meals provided by schools.
In spite of being situated in the richest state in the United States, 85% of the Baltimore City public school children are low income, and 90% are students of color (80% African American 10% Latinx, many of whom newcomers and/or undocumented). Before COVID-19 shuttered Baltimore’s public schools, libraries, and other community supports, the magnitude of the digital divide, and to some degree food scarcity concerns, were greatly obscured. The pandemic has laid bare how many of our essential needs–access to healthcare, food, education, employment – rely on connectivity.
In the wake of the pandemic, Baltimore City Schools responded quickly by creating print work packets; setting up a school fund to provide students with needed technology (through the Fund for Educational Excellence); and launching online school programming for students in PreK-12. Sadly, due primarily to the lack of Internet access, many students are unable to participate in the live online programming. While significant efforts are being made to purchase technology and to feed students and families, as greater numbers of residents lose employment and the pandemic continues to ravage our economy, the funding is insufficient to meet the needs at hand.
In response, OSI-Baltimore has donated $200,000 to this effort and engaged in a public-private partnership in connection with Baltimore City, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition (B-DEC) and other funders. Baltimore City has committed $3 million to the effort.
As the Baltimore Brew reported yesterday, Baltimore City Schools is also partnering with the Abell Foundation, OSI and others to create a “mesh network” that will extend Internet access from school buildings to their surrounding neighborhoods. Waves and the Digital Harbor Foundation are standing up the first pilot that will be replicated upon successful implementation. While substantial, the funding raised to date is not sufficient to address the barriers Baltimore City students face to receiving an education. OSI-Baltimore will continue to raise awareness about these areas of dire need exposed by the pandemic, while campaigning to secure additional funding to meet those needs.