U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro visited a Nashville high school Wednesday to highlight a new program that he hopes will shrink the digital divide between students living in poverty and their more affluent peers.
Castro sat down with about a dozen students from Stratford STEM Magnet High School and their principal to discuss ConnectHome, an initiative from the Obama administration to provide Internet access to public housing in 28 communities across the nation, including Nashville and Memphis.
Many of the students assembled live in the James A. Cayce Homes, a public housing development in East Nashville. Mayor Megan Barry also joined the conversation.
Developing computer, keyboarding and Internet skills have become especially important in Tennessee this year as students transition to online end-of-course testing. Many educators and children’s advocates worry that students without computers at home will be at a disadvantage.
ConnectHome, which is scheduled to launch this spring, could be a “significant game-changer,” said Stratford principal Michael Steele.
“If there’s anything that hinders and you from being successful, it’s that you don’t have access to Wi-Fi at home,” Steele told the students, adding that it’s not just about homework. “It’s about things like being able to research a place you dream about.”
In the 20 percent of U.S. households that have the lowest income, nearly two-thirds own a computer, but less than half have a home Internet subscription, according to an analysis released last summer by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
White House officials say ConnectHome is the next step in the president’s efforts to expand high-speed broadband to all Americans.
“My hope is because of (ConnectHome), younger kids will do better on those math and reading tests in third grade, and they’ll do better in middle and high school … and accomplish their dreams,” Castro said.
Sophomore Isean Lewis told Castro that the Internet is a good start, but that students need devices, too
“I’ve been living in Cayce pretty much all of my life,” Isean said. “My goal is to be a graphic designer. I take a class where we work on app development and other software. During afterschool, I come to the top floor … and work on design there. Unfortunately, when I go home, my goal to be a graphic designer is postponed because I don’t have any resources. How can your team help kids like me?’
Castro said the department is also working to provide more devices to families in public housing.
“We want to give students like you more time at home and on the weekends to engage with and develop your talent,” he said.