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Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative and Comcast launching free WiFi “Lift Zones”

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Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative logoWilmington – The Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative (DRJC), a statewide group of community-based organizations committed to eliminating systemic racism in Delaware, today announced that Comcast is supporting its work to help primarily black and brown children in high-need communities across New Castle County by equipping five learning pods in high-need communities as WiFi-connected “Lift Zones” where children are attending school virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without internet connectivity, these students, many of whom were not performing at grade level even before the pandemic, would likely fall further into the “academic achievement gap” during the pandemic, when most instruction is happening online.

In March, Comcast announced a $1 billion commitment over 10 years in continued support of digital equity, including its Lift Zones initiative, which aims to establish WiFi-connected safe spaces in 1,000+ community centers nationwide for students and adults by the end of 2021. Lift Zones complement Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which has helped connect a cumulative total of 10 million low-income people to the Internet at home since 2011, including 84,000 Delaware residents.

Michelle Taylor

Commenting on Comcast’s decision to assist the learning pods, United Way of Delaware president and CEO, Michelle Taylor, said in a statement, “From the beginning of the pandemic, students and families were thrown into a digital environment that is unfamiliar to many. This, combined with a lack of computers, which the DRJC helped remedy by distributing 500 laptops earlier in the school year, and a lack of access to the internet, has only broadened existing disparities in the minority community. Comcast recognized this inequity and is now a key partner in ensuring that these children have the resources they need to learn and thrive remotely.”

Commenting on the role and importance of the learning pods, Taylor added, “The Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative, which is housed at United Way of Delaware, has been supporting learning pods across Delaware from the beginning of the pandemic. With the help of corporate partners, the state’s school districts, and our agency partners, the DRJC is helping keep 27 learning pods active through the end of the 2021 school year. And we plan to keep as many open as possible this summer to help children catch up on academic assignments they may have missed during this unusual school year. Without internet access, none of this would be possible. We are immensely grateful to Comcast for helping these deserving students.”

The five learning pods now designated as Comcast Lift Zones are:

  • Clarence Fraim Boys & Girls Club(Wilmington)
  • Latin American Community Center(Wilmington)
  • Kingswood Community Center(Wilmington)
  • Bellevue Community Center(Wilmington)
  • West End Neighborhood House(Wilmington)

“The pandemic has put many low-income families at risk of being left behind, and we’re proud to work with community partners to support them with Internet adoption and digital equity programs like this one,” said Jim Samaha, senior vice president of Comcast’s Freedom Region in a statement. “We hope these Lift Zones help New Castle County families stay connected to vital resources.”

Learning pods are professionally staffed, COVID-safety-compliant, community-based facilities that offer a classroom-style experience where children follow the normal school curriculum online. Based on community needs, a learning pod will gather for 20-40 hours per week; many offer before and after care. A learning pod typically consists of 8-12 students with an average ratio of 1 teacher to 7 students, and provides computer and internet access, wellness and mindfulness activities, tutoring and wraparound social services to address family issues that may impact a child’s academic performance. In the Fall of 2020, the Longwood Foundation, the City of Wilmington, corporate and individual donors, and most of Delaware’s school districts partnered with United Way of Delaware to raise $1 million to establish or maintain 27 learning pods in 21 locations across Delaware, serving nearly 750 children and their families.

Student demographics for the 27 learning pods being supported by the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative:

  • 71% of students attend district schools
  • 28% attend charter schools
  • 1% attend private/parochial schools
  • 68% pre-K – grade 5
  • 16% grades 6-8
  • 16% grades 9-12
  • 88% attend their learning pod daily
  • 82% complete assignments on time
  • 91% participate in social/emotional learning programs

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