Since launching in July 2020 to provide home-based internet service at no cost to every K-12 student in need in Hamilton County, HCS Edconnect, powered by EPB, has grown to serve over 16,000 students – who with their families represent more than 28,000 Chattanooga area residents who benefit from the program.
As the new school year begins, HCS EdConnect continues to be available at no charge to new families who opt-in for the service through Hamilton County Schools.
Created through a partnership between Hamilton County Schools (HCS), the Enterprise Center, EPB, Hamilton County, the City of Chattanooga and other public-private partners, the program has been hailed as a national model because it guarantees year-round internet access at no charge to every family with students in need for at least 10 years – with plans to raise more funds as needed to maintain the program indefinitely.
Preliminary research findings now indicate that providing HCS EdConnect internet access to support student educational outcomes also increases parental engagement in their child’s education and provides other long-term benefits, according to on-going research by Boston College researcher Dr. Damian Bebell with support from Dr. Jennifer Ellis, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“In our study, we found that a household’s broadband connectivity status was our strongest single predictor of parent use,” Dr. Bebell explained. “In other words, households participating in the EdConnect program at the time of the survey reported significantly more frequent use of technology for supporting/connecting with their child’s school than those households who were eligible but not actively participating.”
In addition to making it possible for parents and teachers to meet virtually and communicate more regularly, HCS EdConnect powered by EPB provides parents with continuing access to their child’s progress. In addition, the program also affords older students and parents opportunities to pursue ongoing education online and search for jobs while contributing to the health of the household through telehealth and access to other healthcare resources.
“HCS EdConnect is an incredibly important resource for the students and families in our school district,” said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson. “Not only does this program allow our teachers to create lessons and provide curriculum without concern for which students may or may not have access to the internet, it also provides our families with an essential tool they need to engage in their child’s education. Ultimately, it is an equity driven initiative that truly helps to even the playing field in and out of the classroom.”
The research findings also suggest that the families of Black, Hispanic and white children participating in HCS EdConnect are statistically more likely to use technology to support their child’s education at the same rate as each other, while non-participating families show a divide in how often they use technology for education, particularly in the Hispanic community.
“This program is unique on a national scale,” said TEC CEO Deb Socia. “The impact of reliable access to resources is profound and life-changing. In 2022, the internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. HCS EdConnect is an extraordinary project – we are at the forefront of this work and it is an honor to be a part of it and bring connectivity opportunities to thousands of Chattanoogans in need.”
How does it work?
HCS EdConnect is possible because of EPB’s community-wide fiber optic network investment in 2010. As a result of this in-place infrastructure, Chattanooga was uniquely prepared at the beginning of the pandemic to create this program to address the digital divide for every student in need quickly, affordably and in a continuing and lasting way.
“Working with our partners to bridge the digital divide for every K-12 student in need along with their families is part of our mission to enhance local quality of life and economic growth,” said David Wade, president & CEO of EPB. “Supporting students and parents by providing access to educational and other necessary resources is critically important to helping them achieve their potential and ultimately to the success of our whole community.
Funding partners have provided $7.9 million to cover upfront infrastructure costs for the program including additional equipment, fiber optic drops and wireless routers. Currently, the program is guaranteed for 10 years, with efforts to extend that timeline already in progress.
HCS EdConnect is a public-private partnership made possible through support and engagement from Hamilton County, Hamilton County Schools, the City of Chattanooga, EPB, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, The Benwood Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, the Footprint Foundation, The Maclellan Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, private donors, and CARES funding from the State of Tennessee.
Attracting national attention
HCS EdConnect has been recognized by, among others, U.S. News & World Report, Vox, and Bloomberg as a model program; it is also the first broadband access case study in Results for America’s economic mobility catalog.
The model program is also a recipient of the Smart Cities North America Award, the American Public Power Association’s Sue Kelly Community Service Award, a finalist for the Venture Forward United Way Celebrate Award and the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County were together named a “Digital Inclusion Trailblazer” by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance multiple years in a row for collaboration with this project.
To find out more about HCS EdConnect or enroll in the program today, visit www.edconnect.org/.
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