Connecting 7,000 Students, Virtually

Last summer, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) was able to secure laptop devices for each student needing a way to connect to upcoming remote learning. Connecting those devices for remote learning proved another issue.

CPS set to work with Cincinnati Bell and Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) to develop a program that would do just that. Connect Our Students has ensured roughly 7,000 CPS students access to a Wi-Fi connection, allowing them to participate in virtual classes and access online materials during the 2020-21 school year.

“It is an incredible example of how a public-private partnership can make things happen – and quickly,” shared GCF Chief Philanthropy Officer Phillip Lanham. “There was no way we weren’t going to figure this out for students facing the most inequities in our systems.”

This program, supported by a collaborative of local funders and individuals, serves 90% students of color. The Wi-Fi connectivity ensured access to a collective 480,000 days of instruction in the first semester alone.

The rapid, initial rollout of the program came with its own challenges.

Robert Killins, GCF’s Director of Special Initiatives, says stable housing plays a key role in students’ academic success.

“Connecting those students who might be staying with different relatives for a few weeks at a time, until their family can get back on its feet, needed its own unique solution,” shared Killins.

Connect Our Students initially registered the Wi-Fi access to a specific address for each family of students. As those children facing housing instability shifted from relative to relative, the internet hookup did not follow them. That is, until CPS identified the issue and Cincinnati Bell shifted from modems to hotspots for those students affected.

“A lot of the issues we’re facing as a community aren’t new,” shared Killins. “The pandemic is just shining a light on where we need to shift our attention.”

Want to support more initiatives that ensure stable housing and educational success for youth in our region? Join others to amplify the impact of the Affordable Housing Impact Investment Pool or upcoming Educational Success grants. Connect with GCF Staff today.