When the Pleasantville school district wants to get information out to parents they turn to e-mail and the district’s web site, but officials also make use of global calling in English and Spanish and mailings sent to homes.
“We can’t make any assumptions on whether parents have access to the web site, or e-mail,” Pleasantville school superintendent Garnell Bailey cq said.
It may seem everyone today has easy access to the Internet and e-mail. But in poor rural and urban areas, and even in pockets of suburbia, there are families who cannot afford a computer or internet access. That lack of access can make it more difficult for students to complete assignments and more challenging for teachers to make sure students learn skills that will help them succeed in the workplace or college.
For example, a 2012 report by the Investigating Reporting Workshop at American University found that in 2010 New Jersey ranked third in the nation, with about 72 percent of households having broadband access. Hawaii ranked first at 74 percent, and Mississippi had the lowest broadband connectivity rate at 35 percent. An interactive map included with the report showed most of South Jersey ranked at the state average or better.
There are exceptions, however. The report also showed, however, that while Cape May County had an average connection rate of 80 to 100 percent, Woodbine was only at 40 percent to 60 percent. And while Atlantic and Ocean counties had connectivity rates between 60 and 80 percent, sections of Atlantic City, Pleasantville and even Egg Harbor Township were as low as 20 percent.
Cumberland County’s rates were lowest, between 40 and 60 percent countywide, with sections of some sections of Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton at 20 percent to 40 percent, and others at more than 80 percent. The report used U.S. Census and and Federal Communications Commissions data collected from carriers.
Comcast offers a special $9.95 monthly internet rate for families eligible for the federal school free and reduced lunch program, and representatives have worked with school districts, housing authorities and non-profit groups to promote it. Comcast Director of Public Affairs Fred DeAndrea cq said he attends Back to School nights and has met with school officials in Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Bridgeton and Woodbine.
“It is a comprehensive effort to work with families,” he said. “About 30 percent of Americans do not have home internet access and most live below the poverty line.”
Woodbine Elementary School Vice Principal Anthony DeVico cq said they did a survey last year and most families said they had Internet access.
“But it has been an issue,” he said. “A lot is done online now, and it is more of a challenge here. It makes communication more difficult.”
The school has a computer lab accessible to students and is attached to a small branch of the Cape May County Library, where high school students often go after school to do homework or research papers.
Atlantic City and Pleasantville schools have centers equipped with computers that parents can use to access school and other information. School libraries stay open for students to do their homework.
Veronica Gaskill, cq librarian at Atlantic City High School, said they open up before school, during lunch and after school to allow students to do research and use the computers.
“We are full at lunchtime and even before school,” Gaskill cq said. “Not as many students stay after school, but they also have other resources like the library, PAL and the Boys and Girls Club.”
Rodjonnay Thomas, cq 13, of Atlantic City goes to the Atlantic City Public Library almost every day after school to do her homework. The eighth-grader said she she has an iPad and Internet access at home, but the library computers are more reliable and she can get help if she needs it. One recent day she was doing biology homework on cells and cell theory.
“I usually come right after school and stay until my homework is done,” she said. “And then I can do other stuff on the computer.”
The Atlantic City and Vineland libraries have teen centers designed specifically for young adults. The libraries usually limit computer usage to between a half-hour and an hour, but will extend the time if no one is waiting and students are working on school assignments.
Atlantic City youth librarian Maureen Moffitt cq said students like that there is staff there to help them with both the technology and the research.
“They all want to do all their research online, but their research skills are not good,” she said, adding that while students are expert at games, e-mail and Facebook, they don’t know how to evaluate web sites for content. She said even students who have computers at home may not be allowed to use them, have to share them with multiple family members, or have problems with viruses.
Shanice Williams, cq 18, of Atlantic City said she started coming to the library because her two sisters always wanted to use the computer at home and it was hard to get her school work done. She said she used the computers in the Atlantic City High School library during lunch, and came to the library after school. Now a student at Atlantic Cape Community College, she still uses the city library to do her assignments.
“They just have everything you need here,” she said. “It’s very convenient.”
Moffitt also teaches at Atlantic Cape Community College and said about half her students either do not have a computer or do not have internet access at home.
Helen Cowan Margiotti, cq youth librarian in Vineland, said they have five computers in the children’s department for use by students age 12 and under and they are very popular after school. The library is located near the downtown, and sometimes students will stay until their parents pick them up after work.
“Some of them may have computers at home, but they don’t have printers.” Margiotti said. ‘So they come here. ”
Deb Poillon,cq library director in Cape May County said their internet access used to be popular primarily with vacationers, but now it’s year-round. About 7,100 people used the internet at a county system library in May.
“The vast majority are people who don’t have internet access at home,” she said. “We’ll get 400 to 500 students a month coming in after school.”
She said many people come in just to check e-mail, and for adults, most jobs now require online applications.
“People do assume that everyone today has the internet at home, or on their phone,” Poillon said. “We keep thinking that with Smart phones we might need fewer computers. But our usage is up 18 to 20 percent from last year.”