Investing in Education
July 8, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has reached every corner of life in the United States. Most Americans have now experienced long lines snaking around store buildings, desperate searches for eggs and milk, not to mention toilet paper, and navigating working from home. Adding to these stressors, schools across the country began to close in March in order to protect students and faculty.
The difficult but judicious decision to close schools slowed the spread of the disease but left even the most well-resourced parents in an extremely challenging position. For the students whose parents were not well resourced, who did not have access to the internet or computer equipment, the pandemic has created another problem, one of access to a basic right of public education.
In Paris, Texas, a town where sixty percent of Paris Independent School District (PISD) students had limited or no access to the internet, that right would be threatened. Even though printed options were available, it wasn’t equitable for some students to have access to a teacher via zoom and other students to have a worksheet. As a result, CitySquare Paris, a nonprofit serving the most vulnerable people in the town, reached out to PISD to build a prototype that could be expanded in order to provide internet access to more students.
PISD partnered with CitySquare in 2019 to offer meals to students in the summer, along with their existing mentoring program, so the new partnership seemed a natural fit. While CitySquare’s normal programs focus on assisting people who are homeless, living below the poverty line, and otherwise vulnerable, they had never worked to provide internet access to students.
Traditionally, they have made space and set up partnerships for people to take showers and wash clothes, apply for jobs, work with a case manager, take GED courses, and receive food, in addition to providing programming for children and youth. Many of these services have continued, even though they have been altered to accommodate a virus-laden world; however, their new concept, while very much in line with their mission and values, was a courageous pivot that would allow them to serve students in a new way.
In the spring, CitySquare leaders took a leap of faith by applying for a grant from TMF to build a mesh WIFI system that would provide internet to students in a one-kilometer radius south of Justiss Elementary and their leap of faith was rewarded. TMF proudly offered CitySquare the grant and now their work to bring this project to life is beginning.
“It was great TMF offered this grant, because with the pandemic the needs were immediate,” Laura Woodroof, Program Director of CitySquare Paris, shared. “We needed to be flexible and continue our services. Poverty did not stop because of COVID. Continuing our services, even if they were modified, was critical. It gave the population we serve a sense of security. They knew we were still fighting for them; we were still advocating for them. They had not been abandoned. We are grateful to have TMF as a partner to help keep us fighting for our neighbors.”