Initiative to close digital divide in education

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LOOKING ON AS HACC staff prepare to distribute laptops to studentts at Richard Flowers Apartments are (from l-r): HACC Executive Director Rich Monocchio (holding lapel), Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward (black suit) and President Toni Preckwinkle (green suit) following the announcement on October 7, 2020.

On October 7, 2020, President Preckwinkle joined the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) to mark Digital Inclusion Week by announcing a new initiative to provide laptops for all school-age HACC residents who are still in need of e-learning devices for the 2020-21 school year. Digital Inclusion Week is a national effort to raise awareness about digital inequities and join nationwide efforts to close those gaps.

The initiative complements HACC’s Internet Essentials Partnership Program with Comcast, which provides no-cost broadband Internet to households with school-age children and has reached more than 1,100 families so far. HACC has pre-ordered 900 laptops at an average cost of $300 per laptop. Together, these initiatives aim to ensure that every child living in a HACC-assisted household can participate in remote learning to the fullest.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has made equity within the County a key component of her policy agenda throughout her administration.

“Our children must have same opportunities in this remote learning environment as any other school children, no matter their ZIP code,” President Preckwinkle said. “In many parts of our county, school districts are providing that equipment. That’s not the case everywhere, and I congratulate Rich Monocchio and his team at the Housing Authority for their vision in ensuring our children will have available the tools they need to learn, grow and succeed.”

The need for these laptops became apparent after the launch of the Internet Essentials program. In this partnership, HACC covers all costs for resident families with children who participate in Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers broadband at $9.95/month rate to qualifying low-income households for 10 months. To date, HACC has committed $110,000 and $270,000 for broadband access and laptops, respectively.

Many families indicated on their Internet Essentials Partnership Program signup forms that local school districts were not issuing laptops or had run out of the devices. In many cases, children within a family had to share devices with each other or with adults in the family. With the laptop initiative filling in these gaps, children in participating families will be able to fully participate in their classes and have the time they need to work on their individual assignments.

“This is an exciting day for us,” said HACC Executive Director Richard Monocchio. “When we launched our Internet Essentials Partnership Program, we intended to ensure that all of our young people were fully connected to the Internet, and with these laptops we are following through on that commitment. This pandemic has created extra challenges for low-income households, and I’m proud that HACC has stepped up to help our families with children through these challenging times.”

The laptop program and the Internet Essentials partnership are both funded by dollars allocated to the County through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Laptops are being offered to all families who indicated in their Internet Essentials signup that they did not have enough e-learning devices for every child in the household.

“I am grateful to the Housing Authority of Cook County for providing these resources to families in the Southland,” said Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims (5th District). “Every family with school-age children needs a computer at home. There is a significant need for the hardware necessary to access the internet and digital spaces in my district, especially during virtual learning, and I know that this effort will help our residents get through a difficult time.”

HACC will be distributing devices to residents over the next several weeks. Residents can reach out to haccinternet@thehacc.org or (312) 663-5447 with questions.

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