Digital divide: How some Harris County students are being left behind

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The need for computers is essential now more than ever before, according to the executive director of Comp-U-Dopt in the Houston-Galveston area, Colin Dempsey.

"About one in every four families that are living at or below the poverty line in Houston don't have access to technology," Dempsey said. "This has always been our mission at Comp-U-Dopt, to provide technology to families who are historically underserved, and our mission has just been tripled during the crises."

During the pandemic, the non-profit partnered with Communities In Schools to distribute computers across five school districts.

"We normally do about 2,000 computers a year. Now, we're going to be at about 7,000 by next month."

Wednesday morning, the volunteers gave out 270 computers to families lined up at Durkee Elementary School. The computers come with an instruction packet on how to get internet access through a program set up in partnership with Xfinity.

Samantha Franco has a sixth grader at home. She said they had been borrowing a computer through a family member, but now that online learning will continue through the fall, Franco waited more than an hour in line to get a computer for her daughter.

"Since school is all from home, all I can do is wait," Franco said. "Patience is the key."

Franco said she heard about the computer distribution through her daughter's school counselor.

"What I've been hearing and seeing my daughter do, she's staying active. That's the most important thing. I tell her 'if you don't want to be in sixth-grade again, you better stay on your homework,'" Franco said.

Dempsey said in Harris County alone, there are about 46,000 students who do not have access to the technology.

According to Houston ISD, there is a harsh technology divide where about three percent of homes in the district do not have internet access.

The district has been working to distribute thousands of laptops, Chromebooks and hotspots to help close to digital gap.

An interactive map shows the digital divide in each school district in Texas.

Dempsey said it's a three-part issue that is seen across the state: The need for technology hardware, connectivity, getting families internet access at an affordable cost and digital literacy skills, which includes the need for training and IT help.

"There's still a lot of programs that moved online," Dempsey said. "It's still a vital need even moving into the summer and into the Fall of 2020."

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