Comcast announced this week that the cable and Internet provider awarded a $50,000 grant to the Foundation for Tacoma Students to help bridge the digital divide and boost summer learning in Tacoma this summer.
The grant is part of the company’s $1 million national effort to create several Internet Essentials Learning Zones nationwide.
Tacoma’s learning zone will use the web to encourage children to exercise their minds during the summer. The center of the effort is SummerLearningTacoma.org, which will serve as an online hub for families and students to find learning activities and programs either online or in community. The website will be live mid-March and will include summer camps, arts and science programs, summer schools and other learning activities as well as the best websites for online learning games and commercial-free television programs.
“Fighting summer learning loss is just one of the strategies in the cradle to career Graduate Tacoma effort being built by the Foundation for Tacoma Students,” explained Eric Wilson, president of the Foundation. “Graduate Tacoma’s goal is to increase both high school graduation rates and post-secondary completion rates by 50 percent by the class of 2020, while closing gaps in opportunity and achievement.”
The goal was set in 2010, when the graduation rate in Tacoma schools was 57 percent. It has since grown to 70 percent, and the goal is 87 percent.
“We know what works,” Wilson said. “We just need to do it.”
The keys to closing the graduation gap are community involvement, parental involvement and literacy about technology.
“There is no silver bullet,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. It’s the entire community coming together. We can do this. Tacoma can do this.”
The money will also support Ready to Learn Camps for Kids by providing a Mobile Learning Lab through a partnership with KBTC public television. The two-week camps will be held at various locations in the eastside of Tacoma and are designed for elementary school children who show interest in technology.
In addition, KBTC will bring a Mobile Technology Lab to Salishan twice a week to supplement and diversify the Brown Bags and Books summer program, encouraging access to educational resources throughout the summer months. The mobile lab is an expansion after a two-year pilot program in the Hilltop neighborhood.
A partnership with Tacoma Urban League will also provide digital literacy training for families where children will teach parents about basic computer skills, including accessing online grades and finding summer learning opportunities.
“We all want all Tacoma students to become more digitally literate so they can enhance their education and utilize everything the Internet has to offer,” said Deputy Mayor Victoria Woodards, who is also president of Tacoma Urban League. “We know that disconnected children and families do not benefit from a quality of life that should be guaranteed to them.”
Comcast also announced that it will be continuing its Internet-Essentials program, which provides low-income families with discounted Internet connections. The program has connected about 1.3 million people in the last three years to the educational opportunities found on the web. It provides broadband service for $9.95 a month plus tax; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for about $150. Any family with students receiving free or reduced lunches qualifies for the program. The first six months of service is free if people sign up by March 18.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland said it is great to have a private Internet service provider in Tacoma that can provide free or discounted Internet connections to low-income families since the city-owned Click! Network, which also provides cable and Internet connections, can’t do it without violating state law about the gifting of public assets.
“Legally we are very limited in what we can do,” she said.