HAVERHILL—When Senator Edward Markey went to school, all he needed to compete with the other students was the books he brought home.
But in the digital age, gaps in access to technology have created divisions that cannot be bridged by hard work alone.
“Today, if you don’t have internet access, it’s hard to compete because that’s where your bag of books is, that’s inside that Chromebook, that’s on the inside of these technologies,” Markey said.
The senator was at Haverhill High School last Monday, along with Congresswoman Lori Trahan and other local officials, to celebrate federal legislation that has provided students with the devices and internet connections they need to thrive in school. .
Markey first mentioned the E-Rate program he co-sponsored with bipartisan support from Congress, which went into effect in 1998 and connected schools and libraries to the Internet.
“What I did was I was able to put in a little, little, little tax on every phone call made in America, and that created a $54 billion fund, which is helping Haverhill have a internet connection at this library, at this school and at Haverhill Library,” he said.
But the pandemic has further exposed the digital divide as an inequity suffered by working families, a recognition that led to the inclusion of emergency connectivity funding in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
That program provided $823,629 to the Haverhill School District, which was used in part to get Chromebooks into the hands of students who couldn’t afford them so they could study remotely, Doug Russell said. director of technology at Haverhill High School.
He said the money also allowed Haverhill High to partner with Comcast Xfinity to sponsor internet connections in homes where families struggled to make ends meet.
“The last thing we’re working on, that we haven’t done yet, is to implement wireless access in all of our school buses, and that will allow students to use their computers on the way home,” Russell said. . “This will allow us to provide WiFi access in different communities.”
Markey held up himself and Congresswoman Trahan as examples of people whose parents didn’t go to college, but managed to make it through college and far beyond by working hard.
“At the end of the day, the sky’s the limit for everyone in this room, and that’s what we tried to do, that’s what we tried to say, we’re going to provide you with everything you need. need, and then the sky’s the limit,” he said.
He thanked local leaders, who requested emergency connectivity funding as soon as possible, for ensuring Haverhill got the support his schools needed.
“Haverhill got the highest per citizen in the whole country,” Markey said.
The floor was then opened to questions from a range of students from Haverhill Secondary School, some of whom were members of the school government, while others were part of the vocational technical education programme. Several belonged to an AP class on government.
A student wondered how the digital divide would be bridged for working families in the future, if ARPA funding was a one-time measure.
Markey responded that Congress was still working on the Build Back Better Act, which funds a wide range of programs, and is still missing a vote to pass in the Senate, where he saw another opportunity to help students and the schools.
“We’re not going back to the old model,” he said. “We all know that, and we just need to make sure the funding is there for every young person to have access to technology.”
When another student asked for examples of “the real things that keep people from having equity in school environments,” Trahan also cited the measures of the Build Back Better Act.
“It’s not the name of the legislation anymore, but for me it’s a very guiding motto,” she said. “Coming out of Covid, we need to take this opportunity to make sure we don’t go back to a normal that wasn’t good for everyone. We need to move forward to a place where everyone has access, where equity is built into our education system, our health care system, our child care, our workforce opportunities, housing, transportation, all the way. all. “