MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) — As the school year begins virtually for most in Madison, now comes new details on the number of students still without the technology they need to participate in the online classroom experience.
Just days before the first day back, Thoreau Elementary School social worker Laura Glaub unlocked her sedan's trunk.
"You know this is a trunk of a social worker," Glaub laughed. "We got a stuffed animal from a teacher, and then I have about like 15 or so Chromebooks," she said before getting serious.
"So a lot of families have barriers to going and picking up and exchanging so that is what I'll be doing," she said as she looked over the internet ready devices.
Glaub knows with the pandemic and virtual school, the kids she serves are being challenged like never before.
"We're seeing issues in pockets and neighborhoods where families never had internet, families owed a bill and didn't have internet, and so the access is really the concern of social workers right now," she said.
In Madison, nearly 97% of families currently have broadband coverage, but 3,000 families still don’t have any internet access, according to data from the FCC & BroadbandNow.
"Every child deserves to have a high quality learning experience for every single child in the state of Wisconsin and our goal is to make sure that we accomplish that," DPI Assistant State Superintendent for libraries and public instruction's Kurt Keifer said.
Of Wisconsin’s 425 districts — last fall, 15% still didn’t have the online connections they needed. Now that number is at roughly 5%.
"Much better place this fall, then, then, even you know toward the end of last school year," Keifer said.
Still, Glaub knows it’s tough. Out of the 400 families and thousand students she serves on the city’s west side, she said about 20% face internet issues.
"I think it's a lot of conversations around stigma and how families feel comfortable with specific requesting resources and needs and it really relies on the relationship of school staff and families, what are they comfortable with and how can you support them," Glaub said.
This is why Glaub, along with her fellow social workers, devised a creative plan to help bridge the divide.
Concerned parents and community activists deliver groceries and technology directly to students' doors.
"That's why we're doing this delivery because not every family has transportation, not every family has a way to get around, and also families shouldn't have to go to libraries to get internet access,” Glaub said. “Families shouldn't have to go to McDonald's or a fast food restaurant to get internet access. They deserve it in the place that they live, the place that they stay.”
So until that day comes, each and every week at Nakoma's Westminster Church, Glaub and her team deliver kindness, compassion and internet connectivity.
"And there's no question, kids want to learn, kids want to be with their teacher, kids want access," Glaub said. "Also kids love the internet like that's the new way to teach kids love educational games online so how are we getting them to get that access to be there.”
Those interested can learn how to help the Madison west side social workers here.