Nestled in the heart of Washington’s most impoverished zip code is the Northeast Youth Center. It is now acting as a learning center for students living in the Hillyard and Whitman neighborhoods. Every day, staff sit with young students as they navigate their virtual classrooms. They came here because they don’t have internet access at home. If they want to keep up with their peers, they need to find a place to login and learn!

There are many reasons families end up on wrong side of what is being called the ‘digital gap’. This phenomenon is defined as the gap that exits between individuals who have access to modern information and technology and those who lack access. In America, the most formidable obstacle putting families on the wrong side of the digital gap is money. Rising internet costs, and the hefty price tag found on most devices can stop a family’s advancement in its tracks. According to the Digital Divide Council, only half of the U.S. households earning less than $35K a year have a home internet connection. Even if school districts can provide students with devices, it’s all in vain when there’s no way to connect. These students have already started to lag behind. It’s believed that many students have been unenrolled from school simply because of their failure to log in.

For children and families living in poverty, the world is consistently inconsistent. It’s estimated that in Spokane County 1 in 6 children under the age of 18 lives in poverty. Traditionally, schools and their staff have provided the support students need for learning. For these kids, virtual learning is just not realistic.

This has been a growing issue for years, but COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order are making us face it head on and forcing community leaders to come up with new solutions using new tools. It was this need that brought Communities In Schools of Spokane County, local community centers, and Lokket, Inc. together in an effort to provide the hardest hit areas with an affordable connection. It is becoming more and more evident that internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessary utility just like water and electricity.

Students need a community of support now more than ever. Supporting community centers like Northeast Youth Center is our way of making sure students can succeed in school and in life.