NAM Coverage

Helping Families Find a Connection

When I was in 5th grade, going to school in Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, I was asked to write my first typed essay. There was just one problem: I did not have a computer or a printer.

At the time, my family could not afford to have those things. I had the option to go to the library and write my paper there, but the nearest library was far from my home. We ended up getting a used typewriter from a thrift store. I actually liked my typewriter. But, if I made a mistake, I had to start all over again. When I turned in my essay, I looked at everyone else’s and I felt left out. I didn’t know what Microsoft Word was, and everyone was using something called Word Art to make their essays look nice; mine was just plain. Throughout the school year, we were asked multiple times to type our essays. That’s when I realized that a computer was going to be a necessity.

In 6th grade I bought my first laptop for $300. It took me five months to raise the money for it by collecting cans with my parents. Fortunately, the laptop came with a printer. But a laptop isn’t as useful without internet service at home.

Today, it’s not just word processing and the ability to produce typed papers that young people have to reckon with. Now, everything is online. Having access to the internet and to technology at home is necessary for students, even in elementary school. But there’s a problem that doesn’t get enough attention: not everyone can afford the internet. As schools are transitioning to online services, young people and their families often struggle to find affordable internet access (and, of course, affordable computers) for their homes.

When I bought my laptop, my family and I were able to purchase a very slow connection from AT&T for about $30 a month. Because it was so slow, we ended up switching to Xfinity for about $25 a month, which was bundled with a TV service. But after a year, the price increased to about $65 a month. Price increases like this are something that families have to deal with in order to have an internet connection for their kids to be able to do their homework.

With most schools in my district, at least half of the student population is on the free or reduced lunch program. With so many students qualifying for the lunch program, I came to the conclusion that many of their families are not making enough money to pay for necessities, which definitely includes an internet connection. Silicon Valley is so nearby, and yet kids and their families in Fairfield are having a hard time with the basics, like internet access and home computers.

In high school, I came up with a program for my school district called Get Connected. My plan was to have a program that would help students and their families find the internet connections closest to their homes, and also provide them with resources to help them figure out how get an affordable connection inside their homes. I got the idea from an educational conference I attended last year that was put on by the California School Boards Association. I heard about a similar program that another district had implemented, so I started doing research at the library and reading articles about the digital divide.

During my research, I learned a lot of things that I thought were very relevant to life for families in Fairfield. One, for example, is that some people are afraid to ask for help when they don’t have access to a computer or internet service. With Get Connected, not only did I want people to be able to find an internet connection near their home, but also to create a place that would be a hub for reliable and affordable plans.

I presented my plans for the program last year, when I was a senior in high school and a student board member of the school district. My term has ended and I’ll be starting college in the fall, but the next student board member will be taking over the plans and overseeing the program, which is in its final development stages. I can’t wait to see it up and running and how many people it will help.

This is part of a special series, Youth Voices Beyond the Bay, exploring the stories of young people growing up on the far reaches of the Bay Area. Click here to read more stories from the series.

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