Good news was announced last week from several community partners about a new partnership in Kalamazoo which will provide Wi-Fi routers with unlimited internet service at no cost to 1,000 households of Kalamazoo Public Schools students that do not have internet access. 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). Taking action at an incredible speed, these partners convened shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools in Michigan. Von Washington, Jr., executive director of community relations for The Promise, said the COVID-19 pandemic was “the catalyst for ensuring that this was a way we needed to go, and the group has been so quick, swift, and precise in putting this into play. Many collaborations take a long time when there are a lot of people at the table with different agendas, but this group was laser-focused. We were able to execute probably faster than the majority of things that I’ve ever had an opportunity to be involved with.”
It was important that the group moved swiftly, because in its initial research, it was discovered that there were over 3,500 students in the school district that had limited or no access to Wi-Fi—an issue that Von says the group “deemed immediately unacceptable.” The goal of the 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. KPS is already providing laptops to all students in the district, so the new initiative will allow all students to have more equal access to education. 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 KPL will manage and lend the devices. For donations to support the program, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has created a dedicated fund specific to DAFA.
“Through these efforts, we’re able to bring access to thousands that did not have it even before the pandemic. We’re starting to level the playing field of opportunity for students to avail themselves of educational opportunities, homework, and access after the school day that didn’t have it before was just a driver that we felt like we needed to do,” said Von. He went on to add that “while multiple partners came to bear in this in so many ways, the Foundation for Excellence and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation once again continue to demonstrate their commitment to helping bring major resources to bear to help our community and its residents.” But their work is far from over: the group knows that the need for all students to have access to the internet will remain well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and the partnership intends to continue to work toward even better solutions for universal internet in Kalamazoo.