The Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/ Fayette, Inc. (PIC) and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County responds to the ever changing needs of our community. The Foundation in collaboration with the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, has supported a new program that will provide Wi-Fi units Pack’ devices will connect multiple devices allowing students, and family members, to participate in virtual learning activities. This project will help mitigate the ‘digital divide’ that has become more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.
PIC operates before, after school, and summer programs in Monessen City Elementary and High School. The program is funded through the Nita M. Lowery, 21st CCLC grant, and is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The program provides students with academic enrichment opportunities. The foundation looked for existing programs that could connect communities in need with resources to build a better community now, and for the future. The Monessen City School District is located in Westmoreland County and is a Tile I school district. When examining the multiple barriers faced by these students, the importance of having equal access to educational and advancement opportunities becomes evident. The “Monessen Wi-Fi” project will assist Monessen families in accessing opportunities for learning and advancement by providing. ‘Wi-Fi’ hot spot. These devices will be active for an entire year through the summer of 2021, so that students can participate in PIC’s summer programming.
The Private Industry Council’s newly-name President and C.E.O., Shujuane Martin reflects, “This summer we realized the needs of our families during these unprecedented times. Our summer program was offered virtually, but there were families that did not have connectivity and therefore their children could not participate in the learning and enrichment activities that we offered. The support of the foundations helped our organization respond to this need.” In partnership with PIC, administrators have taken swift action to increase the availability of devices and hotspots. Teachers have adopted new instructional tools and adapted their curriculum for online learning all while upskilling to meet the demands of new technology along the way. It’s important to acknowledge: Everyone — from students, to parents, to teachers and administrators — has been doing their best to make this school year as academically rigorous as possible under unbelievably difficult circumstances. Without accessibility and support through the PIC ‘Monessen Wi-Fi’ program, students could fall behind. Much research has been released on how the digital divide impacts American youth. The ‘Digital Divide’ and the ‘COVID Slide’ -which refers to a loss of learning time similar to the ‘Summer Learning Loss’ problem, affects student achievement and academic resiliency. PIC’s Director of Workforce and Economic Development, Alec Italiano, states, “As schools offer virtual classes and assignments online due to the spread of the coronavirus, they confront the reality that some students do not have reliable access to the internet at home; particularly those who are from lower-income households- That’s where this project can help.”
Not only will the individual students benefit from this important resource, but the entire household will be able to utilize the device. Up to ten devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets) can be connected, meaning that the whole family will benefit. The device will be activated and a year’s subscription of service paid in advance through this grant’s funds. Households will be able to access services such as: district-provided curriculum, after school and summer S.T.E.M. lessons provided by PIC, job seeker services, higher education opportunities, medical e-wellness appointments, counseling, and therapist virtual visits. It also provides families needed relief from a monthly bill. When families struggle, the household must make tough choices about which bills to pay. Often in distressed communities, internet service is not affordable when prioritizing rent, food, clothing, and transportation costs.
Families who are looking for more information can visit the organization’s web site to register for the afterschool program at www.privateindustrycouncil.com or call 724 836-2600 A limited amount of devices are available.