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Media Coverage | Beyond the Laptops initiative connects more Pittsburgh Public Schools students to the internet

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By Julia Mericole | Pittsburgh Business Times | June 11, 2020 | Read the full story

Beyond the Laptops, an organization recently created by Neighborhood Allies in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools, said it would provide internet connectivity, through Comcast Corp.’s Internet Essentials program, to the remaining 1,000 families in the school district without access.

A “home tech survey” conducted by PPS in March revealed that more than 7,000 students in the district needed computers and 1,000 needed internet access in their homes in order to complete schoolwork while classrooms are shuttered during the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, the Beyond the Laptops initiative raised almost $400,000 to help bridge that digital divide and delivered 1,200 laptops to PPS students and other community members who need them, according to Presley Gillespie, president of Neighborhood Allies. Gillespie said he hopes to double that funding number in the coming months.

“Digital access today is really as essential as a car or a city bus. Really remotely transporting all of us to these basic functions,” Gillespie said. “We will be covering the internet for all families identified by the PPS home tech survey who previously lacked broadband access.”

Anthony Hamlet, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, said the district still needs 10,000 more devices for students, faculty and staff, and for a 10% stockpile, in case of broken devices, to ensure all students are prepared for the start of the next school year this fall.

He said PPS had always intended to become a “one-to-one” school district, but that the pandemic moved forward that ratio of students to devices at a much faster pace than anticipated. He said that the district is working to prepare for a multitude of scenarios for what school might look like in the fall, but he said PPS will definitely have a full online synchronous platform.

“Ultimately, your city is going to be dictated on how well your school system is running,” Hamlet said. “And I think that is an issue for everyone in the city. It should be important to support public education.”

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