“Bridging the Homework Gap” grants

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

“Seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires access to broadband, but one in three households do not subscribe to broadband service. Where those numbers overlap is a new digital divide – call it the ‘homework gap.’”

That quote is from Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission in 2016, and that’s where the phrase “homework gap” comes from.

If you hadn’t heard the phrase before this spring, it’s likely you’ve heard it now. The closing of school buildings has dramatically highlighted the difficulty students experience completing homework remotely. Maybe it’s lack of access or the cost of high-speed internet, lack of a device, or simply a learner that doesn’t engage as easily while remote.

Through the generosity of an anonymous donor and the Alice DeVoe Donor-Advised Fund, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, NCF has awarded grants to be matched with local philanthropic dollars to narrow the homework gap in Nebraska hometowns.

A statewide committee of educators selected these “Bridging the Homework Gap” grants to local NCF affiliated funds who will, in turn, support 31 school districts. Among those, I’m pleased to share that local school districts being supported include Columbus Public Schools, Lakeview, David City Public, Boone Central, Riverside, St. Michael’s, St. Edward, and Newman Grove!

You should be proud of how innovative and committed these local school districts have been through this crisis, as was indicated by the projects they are going to use these funds to accomplish. While there are still many unknowns, I wanted to share a couple examples of how local schools are using this opportunity to do something really positive for students.

Columbus Public Schools will use a portion of their grant funds to provide training to CPS teachers to address the emotional health of students as they return to school in the fall. The selection committee appreciated CPS recognizing the emotional needs of students, as this will be a real factor in students being able to learn. Whether the fall semester starts in-person, remote, or a combination of both, there are going to be social and emotional health issues that teachers will have to address with their students.

Lakeview is using some of this funding to help them be adaptable to improve outcomes for summer school students. As their staff prepares multiple scenarios, this commitment allows them to think about investments to engage more students in-person in ways they couldn’t otherwise. Now that’s a great example of innovative thinking, a few dollars, and commitment from the school leading to better potential educational outcomes!

Newman Grove is using the funds to provide personal support for students and families who have had tech challenges.

As more and more schoolwork, especially homework, has moved online in the past five years, the educational discrepancy between students with technology at their fingertips at home and those who lack access has grown dramatically. Importantly, this problem existed long before we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic. Since mid-March, every public-school student in Nebraska moved to remote learning. Students learned via platforms like Zoom and YouTube. Communication with teachers went virtual. COVID-19 has widened the homework gap into a whole new realm of complexity and challenge.

For each of these issues, there are a variety of solutions and those are reflected in these “Bridging the Homework Gap” grants. Based on the experiences of Nebraska Community Foundation over the past 25 years, we believe this community-centric philanthropic approach could lead to numerous innovative local solutions which help not only in a crisis but, in fact, improve learning for the long-term. And we are optimistic this approach will help to mobilize local leadership to take on and solve this issue with more information, confidence and courage.

Congrats to the local schools who are putting these dollars to work! It’s another great example of the power of the network of NCF, local affiliated funds, and other local assets coming together to improve things in greater Nebraska.