Provo School District combats digital divide

A student does schoolwork at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic brought up many challenges regarding access to technology. (Alexa Elliott)

Provo School District is utilizing many ways to tackle the digital divide as President Joe Biden’s Internet for All initiative is implemented across the country. 

The term “digital divide” refers to disparities in participation and access to technology. According to the National Library of Medicine, this digital inequity disproportionately affects minorities, rural residents and low-income families. These gaps in opportunities can lead to greater inequalities.  

Lack of access to broadband internet, computers and other technological resources was made even more evident during COVID-19. Students struggled to attend virtual classes and complete homework in a completely online school setting.

During COVID-19, Provo School District made it possible for all students to get a Chromebook. 

“Having the kids have a Chromebook cuts down on the digital divide,” Deanna Coates, a special education teacher leader at Provo High School, said.

However, Coates has seen how a lack of internet access has affected students. While each student has a Chromebook, some don’t have access to the internet at home and have to use their phone instead of the computer or find other options. 

“We have several families that don’t have internet at home so they have to do their homework at school,” Coates said. 

In Nov. 2021, Biden passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which includes the “Internet for All” initiative. One of the initiative’s goals is to provide broadband internet access for the entire country. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been tasked with implementing this plan within different states and communities. 

As officials address digital access on the national, state and local levels, students also face issues not just with access, but with digital participation and skills. 

“We can forget that some folks don’t have that education and understanding behind them regarding technology,” Brian Yazzie, the Diversity and Equity Coordinator for Provo School District, said.

According to Yazzie, there are many parents who struggle with a language barrier, which makes it difficult for them to help their children use the technology needed for school.

One way Provo School District has addressed this is through social work. “Each school has social workers working together to find the resources to help that family. That service alone helps us better understand the needs of that family,” Yazzie said. 

According to Pahoran Marquez, a school counselor at Provo High School, the Familias Unidas program is also working to address these issues. The program’s bimonthly meeting gives Hispanic families and students the opportunity to meet and learn about topics like technology and college and career readiness.

“Since many of the attendees are still developing English language skills, the meetings are conducted fully in Spanish,” Marquez said. “This is another way in which we are trying to help not only possible digital divide but also language barriers for one of our minority groups in the school.”

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