Connected Beyond the Classroom initiative selected for its innovative approach to digital inclusion and closing the homework gap.
As Texas A&M University-San Antonio continues to take a leadership role in expanding digital access for families in south Bexar County, its collaboration with the City of San Antonio’s Connected Beyond the Classroom initiative is receiving national attention from the Smart 50 Awards for connecting communities with much-needed broadband services to close the digital divide. As part of its role in boosting digital inclusion, earlier this year A&M-San Antonio launched the Digital Inclusion Project (DIP), providing innovative help desk services to households within the ASPIRE network (A&M-San Antonio and south Bexar County ISDs Partnership for Regional Equity and Excellence).
According to a 2019 demographic profile of independent school districts in south Bexar County, conducted by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the disparity among households in neighborhoods throughout San Antonio with regard to their lack of Internet access ranges from 1.1 percent to 45.5 percent. That huge gap compares with 18.8 percent of households across the state of Texas that lack Internet service.
“Smart 50’s recognition of San Antonio’s Connected Beyond the Classroom program speaks to the collective impact of the unique partnerships of A&M-San Antonio, ASPIRE school district network, and the city as we identify shared solutions to address access and increase equitable and creative solutions to providing the services and support necessary for students and families,” said Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of A&M-San Antonio. “We are moving the needle in south Bexar County and San Antonio through this shared commitment to those we serve.”
Closing the Homework Gap
A&M-San Antonio’s role in providing help desk support to students and the family members who help them is essential for creating a sustainable model to address the homework gap, a term referring to a student’s inability to complete homework assignments successfully. The homework gap has a huge impact on student performance and academic success.
According to studies conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank, increasing access to broadband Internet in underserved areas and providing the support needed to use the technology successfully will play a significant role in decreasing the socioeconomic disparity between economically disadvantaged areas and those that have high levels of access to broadband Internet and technology resources.
DIP received a boost earlier this year with a $750,000 grant from USAA. Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. has since donated $150,000 to advance project efforts. The help desk is staffed by high school students and A&M-San Antonio students trained and supervised by the University’s information technology staff, contributing to the professional portfolio and career opportunities of students post-graduation.
Each year Smart 50 Awards, in partnership with several national programs (Smart Cities Connect, Smart Cities Connect Foundation and US Ignite), recognizes the 50 best examples of innovative projects with broad impact taking place in cities around the world. According to San Antonio’s Smart City Coordinator Candelaria Mendoza: “Once fully completed [Connected Beyond the Classroom] will have a major impact on our most vulnerable and underserved.” The City of San Antonio also received the Smart 50 award in 2019 for its 311SA Mobile App.