Diversity & Inclusion
COVID-19 / Digital access / Education

Philly families: Call 211 for help getting students online during the virtual school year

By calling United Way's social services hotline, local parents and caregivers in need of internet access can learn about available resources and more.

Kids and devices. (Photo by Twin Design via Shutterstock)
Correction: Families should not text 211, as previously reported. (8/28/20, 3:36 p.m.)

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has schools within the School District of Philadelphia starting virtually, the PHLConnectED initiative has a new way to help K-12 students’ households without internet access to get connected and stay informed about the upcoming school year.

By dialing 211, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey’s 24-hour social services hotline, families can now access info on school programming and referrals to sources that can help their households get online. The addition of this resource comes by way of a partnership with the City of Philadelphia.

“We’re thrilled to launch the PHLConnectED hotline and get our students ready for digital learning,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement. “We know that many families need internet access, so we’re eager to get started connecting them as quickly as possible. PHLConnectED is a critical step in bridging the digital divide in Philadelphia.”

In July, the school district announced that all classes would be virtual during the upcoming semester until at least Nov. 17.

The use of technology to aid virtual learning in the pandemic has been a polarizing topic for families that already lacked access to digital assets like internet access and wireless hotspots. As of early August, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program will provide free access for 35,000 student households as part of PHLConnectED, a broader $17 million digital equity plan.

Providing internet access is just one aspect of bridging a digital divide that has only been exacerbated by a pandemic and concurrent recession. For some parents who do have internet access, needing to work while supporting their kids in school is also an obstacle that virtual learning presents.

In addition to being available 24 hours a day every day of the week, the 211 hotline is available in more than 150 languages. Families can dial 1 after calling the hotline, and a resource navigator will help them access information such as their eligibility for the PHLConnectED program and how they can get connected if they are eligible.

Last week, the City also announced the launch of 32 Access Centers where students can go to be supervised and receive free meals during their virtual school day.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: City of Philadelphia / School District of Philadelphia / United Way of Central Maryland

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