When the pandemic exposed a “COVID-19 learning slide” in the reading skills of thousands of children in Phoenix, Read On Phoenix (ROP) and the City of Phoenix doubled down on efforts to increase school readiness, literacy initiatives and early childhood activities. Having been recognized by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading as a “Pacesetter” community in 2016 and 2017, as well as a “Bright Spot” community in 2020, these efforts have built on nearly a decade of collaboration designed to combat learning loss through addressing digital learning inequities and ensuring affordable housing with a pathway to self-sufficiency for those with low or limited incomes.
Technology extends and expands educational programming beyond the classroom, which proved essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, technology comes with a cost that can often be prohibitive for many families. Recognizing the need for technological assistance, the City of Phoenix initiated several partnerships and collaborations designed to address this need. The city partnered with T-Mobile to distribute over 800 tablets to families in public housing, which have been crucial in educational enrichment and digital literacy training for more than 1,800 people. To complement these efforts, the city partnered with School Connect and Scottsdale Bible Church to use more than $3.5 million to purchase more than 12,000 internet-powered laptops for residents of public housing. Distribution of technology like laptops facilitated online learning for countless students, but these technologies required expansion of existing Wi-Fi networks and broadband internet access throughout Phoenix. The city addressed this need in several ways. The Phoenix Digital Education Connection Canopy (PDECC) brought together school districts and community colleges to increase broadband internet access in areas where the need was the greatest. It now supports a four-square-mile area in which nearly 1,000 students participate in online learning with technical support available seven days a week. Given its success, PDECC anticipates expansion throughout Phoenix to deliver high-speed internet to over 350,000 families. The city also has invested in maximizing Wi-Fi access, along with Wi-Fi hotspot lending programs that serve hundreds of families in public housing.
Learning Rich Environments
Through the Housing Coalition of Service Providers (HCSP), the city collaborates with more than 70 community partners in education, workforce, health, recreation and other supportive services to assist in developing literacy and learning-rich environments in the city’s housing facilities. These initiatives recognize the need for additional support for children and families to become self-sufficient, and provide everything from books to career development resources to family-oriented literacy development programs. Along with educational needs, learning-rich environments seek to provide social and emotional support for children and families through mental health resources. Due to these collaborations, families and children are empowered to keep up with classmates, obtain resources necessary for success and pursue learning within stable housing environments.