About 850 Sarasota County students to receive free internet access, thanks to efforts of Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Sprint program

Program to focus initially on eighth-graders

A graphic shows how Wi-Fi service works. Image by Robo56 via English Wikipedia

With the assistance of Sprint and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, hundreds of students in the Sarasota County School District will receive free access to the internet, the district and the foundation announced this week.

Millions of high school-age students across the country do not have access to reliable internet service at home, a news release explains.

Yet, the release points out, 70% of America’s teachers in schools assign homework to be completed online, “which results in dramatically uneven outcomes among students.” The Sarasota County Schools, with the assistance of Sprint’s 1Million Project Foundation, “aims to bridge that gap for nearly 1,000 students in Sarasota County,” the release adds.

The school district recently was selected by the 1Million Project to participate in Sprint’s national initiative for low-income high school students, the release explains. The students will gain high-speed internet access at home, at no expense, the release adds. In the district’s first year of participation, Sprint will offer wireless “hotspots” to more than 850 students identified by district staff. “In subsequent years, students in need might also receive free wireless devices through the program,” the release explains.

“We are so thankful to be a part of this initiative,” said Laura Kingsley, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer of the district, in the release. “It is vital for our students to have access to resources that will help them succeed because we want learning and discovery to be a lifelong pursuit for all our students.”

The school district’s participation in the program is a result of conversations between district administrators and representatives of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation “about ways to level the playing field for students in need,” the release continues. “Gulf Coast President and CEO Mark Pritchett worked with Kingsley to evaluate this opportunity,” the release adds. Gulf Coast then funded the grant-writing services necessary for the district to win acceptance for a 1Million Project grant, the release notes.

“When students don’t have reliable access to the Internet, it’s putting them at a disadvantage that doesn’t need to happen,” said Pritchett in the release. “Gulf Coast has already partnered with the school district to equip classrooms with cutting-edge technology, and students love it. Now we need to make sure they have the tools to succeed away from the classroom, too.”

In May, the Sarasota County Schools will begin the process of identifying the students who will be offered free Wi-Fi hotspots through the grant. “The district expects to distribute hotspots to students in August, prior to the start of the new school year,” the release points out.

The focus will be on rising eighth graders, as their hotspots “will remain in their possession throughout high school and graduation,” the release explains.