How Atlanta Public Schools Connected Students Through Low-Cost Residential Broadband
Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is connecting thousands of students to low-cost Internet solutions so they can continue learning during the coronavirus pandemic. They shared the critical steps they took to keep students learning during COVID-19.
1 | NEEDS ASSESSMENT
Needs assessments are an essential first step for any school district trying to connect students. Instead of trying to assess the needs of all 55,000 students in the school district, administrators analyzed attendance metrics and focused on determining the needs of students that missed class. Then, they surveyed (electronically, by mail, and over the phone) families of those 6,000 students to maximize efficiency.
From that survey, they learned that many students needed connectivity, and the devices the school district already owned would not be enough to cover the need.
Social workers and school administrators knew the main reason that families lacked Internet at home was due to the cost of service and complexity in signing up. Based on this data, they had to look for alternative solutions to connect their students that also made it easy for parents to sign up – which led them to Comcast.
2 | PARTNERING WITH COMCAST
Comcast Internet Essentials
A low-cost Internet solution designed to affordably connect homes across America. While parents can sign up on their own and receive two free months of service during COVID-19, many APS families did not know about the program. Also, certain eligibility requirements prevented many APS parents from signing up.
APS, therefore, brokered a partnership with Comcast to address the following challenges:
- Determine eligibility
APS trained staff to contact families about the promotional offer and determine eligibility through phone calls, email, and letters. They also worked with Comcast to securely provide the addresses of students in need of Internet access to determine eligibility directly.
- Sponsor service
APS will sponsor the first 12 months of service and pay Comcast on behalf of families. Families do not need to handle the billing, and Comcast is guaranteed the payment through APS. This eliminated one of the restricting factors to signing up – expensive monthly bills.
- Cover outstanding bills
APS did not want an unpaid bill to prevent students from learning. If a family had outstanding bills with Comcast, they committed to covering a portion of the outstanding debt so they could restart service at those locations.
The partnership took about two weeks to iron out the details. APS is hopeful this experiment can be used as a model for other school districts to sponsor service for families in need.
3 | GET OUR KIDS CONNECTED FUNDRAISING LAUNCH
APS launched a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of service for families across the school district. Get Our Kids Connected estimated it would cost $300 to equip students with a device and connectivity for the next 12 months. With a pilot group of 1,000 students, their goal was to raise $300,000 from the community.
They quickly surpassed that goal thanks to the generous contributions of their community, which enabled them to add flexibility to the program (ex: covering a portion of outstanding bills) and deliver devices directly to students’ homes.
4 | COMMUNICATIONS
APS had a robust communications plan throughout the project, and many staff members and volunteers helped spread the word.
APS created a comprehensive communications strategy to spread the word. They created a campaign around Get Our Kids Connected and spread it across several channels. Through a press release, social media, a landing page, video, emails, and mass texts, they made their fundraising goals known and let parents know that they were working on a solution to connect their students.
They are continuing to gain media coverage on the program to make sure every student that has a need can get connected.
On top of mass communication, APS leveraged the expertise of their social workers and community volunteers to call parents directly. They segmented the families based on the devices and/or Wi-Fi needed, explained the benefits of the program, and helped them determine eligibility. They created scripts, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and a central email address to make it easy for parents to get in touch.
If they were able to reach a primary caregiver, APS verified eligibility and signed them up directly. If they were found to be ineligible for some reason, APS helped them find an alternative access solution (e.g., mobile hotspots).
Get Our Kids Connected exemplifies the power of partnerships. After assessing the needs of the community, APS leveraged its business expertise to organize on behalf of the community and connect students. Bringing low-cost Internet to students is not an easy task, but APS has created an impactful strategy for addressing home access challenges during COVID-19, and perhaps into the future.