Providing Access for All in Palm Beach County
Stark inequalities due to the Digital Divide were prevalent in Palm Beach County before COVID-19 devastated the world and highlighted the need for many of our students and families to access high quality internet at home. When schools shifted to distance learning in 2020, approximately 15,000 students did not participate as they did not have reliable internet access. Immediately, the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County stepped in as the nexus of Palm Beach County public school system, the private sector and the community to partner and support The School District of Palm Beach County's efforts to provide a solution to the much needed digital access for 25,000 families identified as not having access to the internet after making the shift to distance learning. The Digital Inclusion Initiative is a partnership between local municipalities, Palm Beach County, The Education Foundation of Palm Beach County, public and private sectors and The School District of Palm Beach County. Utilizing a collective impact approach, this collaborative team is creating a WiFi mesh network to connect students to high-speed internet and provide training for students and families to use the internet to improve their life opportunities and outcomes.
Our objective is simple. "Connect" the business and philanthropic community to a project that has a legacy-lasting, generational effect that will shape the way students learn and families thrive. Not only will access for all assist students in their studies, it will help caregivers apply for jobs, access healthcare and all of the resources the internet provides.
School District Families' First Connection to the Internet
The pilot program has begun in Lake Worth, Florida where families are establishing their connection to the internet with WiFi Extenders, made possible by the generosity of the community. School District of Palm Beach County's "WiFi Warriors" help train families on how to use their new technology and advise ways to troubleshoot any possible challenges.
Community Collaboration to Connect Palm Beach County Families
One in five children in Palm Beach County live at or below the poverty level (PB Post article, May 19, 2019). That equates to 55,843 children right here in our community. It takes the entire community coming together across sectors to eliminate the digital divide for our students and families in Palm Beach County.
The School District of Palm Beach County invested $45 million to achieve a 1:1 student /digital device ratio before the start of the 2020-2021 academic school year.
Palm Beach County under the leadership of Virginia Baker invested over $15 million in Federal CARES Act funding to support the building of the infrastructure, and the installation of poles with solar panels throughout the county. These solar panels will power mesh radios installed around the county to create a WiFi Mesh so signals will be able to reach thousands of homes for families to connect to the internet.
The Education Foundation serving as the nexus between the public school system and the business, philanthropic, government agencies and municipalities, spearheaded fundraising efforts raising funds critical to the initiative, connectivity. To date, $962,939 has been raised to provide WiFi extenders to students and families to connect to the internet once infrastructure has been established through the WiFi mesh network.
Once a family has access, Community Partners of South Florida's Community Navigators will visit neighborhoods to provide training on how to use the equipment and ways to troubleshoot any challenges. This is made possible through a grant from the Quantum Foundation.
It is the collective efforts of our community that has made this initiative possible. We wish to thank our funders for their commitment to public education by strengthening the connection in our community that will impact generations as a result of their thought leadership, compassion and generosity. Join the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and our partners in eradicating the digital divide by supporting The School District of Palm Beach County's Access for All: A Digital Inclusion Initiative, DONATE today.
WiFi Mesh Network to Begin in Lake Worth Beach, Florida
The goal of the Digital Inclusion Initiative is to grant all students, regardless of zip code, access to reliable internet access in their homes. On February 25, 2021 The School District of Palm Beach County, the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and members of the business community and government agencies gathered to announce the measures being taken to expand the WiFi mesh network in Lake Worth Beach, which will provide connectivity for 5, 000 homes.
The School District of Palm Beach County identified the areas to be served with the WiFi mesh network using a number of criteria. Robust Geographical Information Systems (GIS) analysis was used to identify areas with the highest concentrations of families reporting that they had no internet access as well as a high density of Palm Beach School District students eligible for the National School Lunch Program. The geocode file of these students, which are depicted as points designating the location of where students reside, were calculated by their density within a ¼ mile range to identify areas where the greatest clusters of students are located. Using this data, Dr. Donna Goldstein, GIS Manager for the School District, produced a Countywide “Heat Map” to identify priority areas for Broadband fiber and WiFi radio/pole installations.
The color-coded areas on the heat map represent the density of where students on free and reduced meals live using a 1/4 mile to define density. The points on the map represent those households that reported they have no internet. The School District of Palm Beach County is using the red color-coded areas to define the areas to target with internet access.