A new partnership in Kalamazoo will provide Wi-Fi routers with unlimited Internet service to 1,000 households of Kalamazoo Public School students that do not have Internet access at no cost. The partnership, known as Digital Access for All (DAFA), includes Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), The Kalamazoo Promise (The Promise), the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KZCF), and the City of Kalamazoo (The City) with funding provided by the Foundation for Excellence (FFE).

"The executive order that closed public schools exacerbated the educational inequities that are present in our community," noted Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations for the Kalamazoo Promise. "Many of our students don’t have access to Wi-Fi at home, which makes online schooling nearly impossible for some families. It was imperative that The Promise and community partners collaborate to address unequal access to Wi-Fi, both now and into the future. For Kalamazoo to truly be an education community, our actions must stop the deepening of inequities already present in our society. We are responsible for reducing barriers that have long stifled the educational outcomes of marginalized communities."

Along with KPS’s supplying of laptops to all students, the DAFA partnership eliminates a major hurdle to distance learning that faces many students in Kalamazoo. The goal of this partnership is to create a more level playing field for Internet access and to enhance access for online education services so all students can learn. This initiative relies on the collaboration, resources, and shared accountability of its partners. KPS and The Promise will each provide $ 50,000 toward the anticipated program cost of $ 200,000 in year one, and the City, with FFE support, will cover remaining expenses and provide sustainability long-term.

"The Digital Access for All initiative demonstrates that advancing equitable access to resources can happen both quickly and with a grand vision of sustainability, when done in partnership with organizations that are passionate about the work," said Kalamazoo’s Mayor David Anderson.

The Kalamazoo Public Library will manage and lend the devices. For donations to support the program, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has created a dedicated fund specific to DAFA.

"Recognizing the digital divide that exists within our community and taking action to address that divide is critical," said Carrie Pickett-Erway, president/CEO of KZCF. "Leveraging many talents and assets to close the gap speaks to the strength of collaboration and commitment to remove barriers to education that every student deserves."

The partnership began on April 2, 2020, when the implications of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order became clear, resulting in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students learning at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instructional and support services are being provided by teachers and staff through online communication to students to the greatest extent possible, but not all students have Internet access.

"Access to the Internet has already become more of a necessity than a luxury, even without a pandemic," stated Ryan Wieber, Director of Kalamazoo Public Library. "It is essential for learning, research, banking, collaborating, and a critical part of an education in itself."

In order to provide Internet access to students who do not have it, hotspots and services are being purchased for KPS students to borrow from the KPL as a part of the already established OneCard Program, which allows students to borrow books, movies, and other items through the library. The Project will start in June 2020 with the City of Kalamazoo (through the Foundation for Excellence) following City Commission approval on June 15, 2020 and subject to any necessary approval by all other Partners and conclude on August 31, 2021 (Year One). Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, the need for all students to have access to the Internet will remain, and the partnership has stated its intention to continue in future years with this solution, or by working toward even better solutions for universal Internet in Kalamazoo.

"This is a big step towards eliminating the digital divide and making sure that all students have opportunities to advance," said Superintendent Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri.

Eligible participants must be KPS students participating in the OneCard Program. Families that have identified themselves as having "No access" will be offered priority registration. Only one device per street address and residence will be permitted.

Further information will be provided to families by KPS in the coming weeks.