Story by Miguel-Angel Orduno. Photo via Flickr.
The bell rings drawing another school day to a close, and the halls of Wilson High School are flooded with students eager to get home where most will they likely browse the Internet for hours on end.
For 18-year-old Eddy Perez, however, this is not a reality.
Perez gathers his backpack and heads straight to the school library, where he’ll spend the next two hours working on homework assignments that need to be completed using the web.
“I only have two hours after school to finish online assignments because once I get home there is no more Internet,” says Perez, in a soft-spoken voice.
Is Perez’s reality – a digital divide – true for too many high school students in Long Beach?
Youth advocates believe so.
Long Beach ranks 130 out of 296 across the nation in the number of households with internet access, according to Census data analyzed by Governing. In total, 81 percent of Long Beach households have some kind of access, meaning about 31,000 households have to go elsewhere to connect online.
“One of the biggest issues I see is the lack of Internet access that low income families have,” says Les Peters, Executive Director of YMCA of Greater Long Beach.
The YMCA is one of few organizations helping bridge the gap by reaching out to Long Beach’s lowest income communities and connecting them with quality programs.
Peters oversees the Youth Institute and curriculum development at the YMCA, where he finds students like Perez struggling to get homework done due to the digital divide.
“Sometimes I would have to turn in my work late because I don’t have access,” says Perez. “My grades sometimes dropped, so I had to bring up my grades by doing extra credit.”
Tired of going to the school library for two hours every other day, he decided to enroll and join his sister at the Youth Institute at the end of his sophomore year to keep up with the demands of digitizing classrooms.
Seven in 10 teachers now require internet access for homework, the Federal Communications Commission told the New York Times last year. A 2012 Pew survey found most teachers believe that digital technology is widening achievement gaps.
Now a senior, Perez has enjoyed the YMCA the past two years and feels a lot more confident that he can turn in his work on time. But he feels that transportation to the YMCA from school is hard on his mother.
“My mom picks me up from school, and drops me off here, but it’s hard because she works a lot,” says Perez.
If his mother could afford Internet it would make things easier, Perez says, then he would be able do his homework from the comfort of his own home.
Perez’s thoughts on the digital divide he faces are the exact motivation for human-I-T, a Long Beach-based high tech company that hopes to lead the way in closing the digital divide by fixing unwanted electronics and distributing them to those in need.
They also offer low-cost Internet at $8 a month.
Aaron Wilkins, Chief Financial Officer of human-I-T believes that they’re making a substantial impact.
“human-I-T is bridging the digital divide by making sure low-income families receive the help they truly need,” Wilkins says. “We’re giving out free devices with the intention of those devices being able to help with school, job applications, continuing education via resources on those devices.”
The company also runs six technology programs, through which they distribute refurbished devices throughout Los Angeles County.
OurCycle LA is collaborative effort between human-I-T and Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles to donate technology and promote digital literacy within the county.
“Our programs that we run are doing a really great job in helping communities,” says Wilkins.
In efforts to help Long Beach students like Perez, such groups aspire to close the economic and social gap that is the digital divide. To them, bridging the divide means all Long Beach communities can harness the power of information.