San Jose might be known as the center of innovation and the tech capital of Silicon Valley, but for nearly a tenth of its residents living without internet access in their homes, that does not reflect their reality.
At Cristo Rey San José Jesuit High School, where more than 90% of students are first-generation immigrants, Principal Joe Albers sees the effects of the digital divide every day.
“A lot of it has to do with limited access to technology in the home,” Albers said. “The issue we see most is that our students are pretty tech-savvy and can adapt, but their parents are not as much, which can prevent them from helping with their student’s academic achievement and can make it harder for them to support their student through their college search.”
To help organizations such as Cristo Rey high bridge that critical gap of access among residents, the San Jose City Council has awarded $1 million spread across 23 organizations — from charter school networks to nonprofit organizations to affordable housing developers — as part of its new San José Digital Inclusion Fund.
“There are thousands of our residents who are simply struggling because they are not part of this digital world,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “… and so the key here is to get devices in hands, get connectivity and get skills so that we can improve the living standards of residents and improve the educational opportunities for children.”
The grant program, supported by both public and private funding, has been in the making for more than three years, prompted by a city study that found that nearly 100,000 San Jose residents — primarily coming from low-income Latino and black households — were without broadband access in their homes.
Residents surveyed by the study said that the biggest barriers to obtaining broadband were the cost of service and the devices. And many low-income residents — especially those in the Latino community — did not fully understand the benefits of internet access nor how essential it is in order for students to complete homework assignments.
“Building an inclusive city, one of the five core pillars of the Smart City Vision, means that we ensure everyone in our city will benefit,” stated the 2017 Digital Inclusion Study conducted by the city in partnership with Stanford University. “As homework, job opportunities, and services are increasingly digital, those on the wrong side of the digital divide will be left further behind.”
The first round of program grants ranged from $150,000 to $5,000 depending on the need and reach of each organization, with the San Jose Library Foundation receiving the largest chunk of funding.
The new program aims to take a three-pronged approach to bridging the city’s gap in digital access and literacy by securing low-cost internet access for residents, providing devices for residents in their homes and offering digital literacy programs to help residents apply for jobs, complete homework and access critical services online.
The Library Foundation — the fundraising arm of the city’s public library system — plans to use its grant to launch a technology lending pilot program where residents who may not have permanent housing or cannot afford internet at home can rent a device and a hotspot from the library. The foundation will also be offering new multi-week digital literary workshops where residents can learn how to use devices and protect their privacy online — and take home a new device upon completion of the course.
“The importance of this I don’t think can be overemphasized,” said Dawn Coppin, executive director of San Jose Public Library Foundation. “By bringing people into the digital revolution, it means that their voices can finally be heard and that makes for a stronger democracy, especially with the election coming up and the census happening.”
At Cristo Rey, Albers plans to use the $25,000 of funding awarded to the school to offer digital training sessions for parents and provide $200 stipends for families to get internet access in their homes.
“We are grateful for this opportunity to serve students and families to benefit from all the technology and affluence in this region to help them have all the similar opportunities as their more affluent peers,” Albers said.
The city aims to raise an additional $24 million in private funding over the next 10 years so that it can connect 50,000 San José households with access to the internet and digital training. During this first round of funding, the city expects that the $1 million in funding will help serve 4,000 households in San Jose.
“Living in one of the wealthiest areas possibly in the entire world, we need to make sure that the economy of Silicon Valley is accessible to every child in every corner of our city,” Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said. “But we have to give them the tools.
“We should be able to expect the same for every child to reach success and be able to support them.”
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