Multigenerational families stay connected with PHLConnectED
By Shannon Reyes
Over the last year, virtual learning has proven to be a challenge for many kinship caregivers. Transitioning from a physical space to a digital environment has completely reshaped the landscape of learning. Older adult caregivers must now help navigate multiple online platforms and supervise school-age children, while some are also simultaneously working at home.
Virtual learning hinges entirely on technology, requiring a reliable home internet connection and a computer or tablet. Unfortunately, both internet and a web-enabled device are not available in every Philadelphia home.
There’s a new program in Philadelphia that seeks to bridge that gap. PHLConnectED provides free, high-speed internet to Philadelphia K-12 caregivers who need reliable internet service in Philadelphia, including older adults who care for their grandchildren or other young relatives. PHLConnectED also provides digital skills training and tech support for families.
Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s (PCA’s) Caregiver Support Program, which provides care management, caregiver education and training workshops, financial assistance and benefits counseling, has seen the digital divide negatively impact many grandparents who are raising school-age children in the city. Cheryl Clark, PCA’s Caregiver Support Program director, explains that even when grandparents had connectivity, slow internet speed and unreliable connections made it hard to participate in online school.
“PHLConnectED is an excellent resource that can provide direct assistance, technical support, and training to students, their older relatives and others who may need help,” Clark said. “The program offers direct connections to tech experts who can help troubleshoot connectivity and provide education for free.”
In Philadelphia, there are approximately 12,000 people in the city who are primarily responsible for caring for a grandchild. More than 9,000 of them are 50 and older.
When the program launched in August 2020, it was hailed by state and local lawmakers, including City Council President Darrell Clarke, who applauded the city’s efforts to help bridge the digital divide.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Philadelphia was grappling with a crisis of poverty and inequality that left far too many of our vulnerable young residents without access to quality educational resources that they deserve,” Clarke said. “The events of 2020 have made it clear that internet access is not a luxury, it’s a basic necessity, and we should make every effort to provide it to our residents.”
When the program first launched, eligibility guidelines included Philadelphia K-12 households that:
• Do not have in-home, broadband internet access.
• Only have internet access through a mobile phone.
• Are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, or are located where a wired connection may not be possible.
• Have students who complete their remote learning in locations without internet access.
PHLConnectED recently expanded eligibility to include households that receive public benefits with income qualifications, have students designated as English Learners or have students who receive special education services.
“Over the last nine months, the City and many partners have helped more than 12,000 families cross the digital divide,” said Philadelphia’s Chief Information Officer Mark Wheeler. “Throughout this process, we’ve also learned that many families already have internet service, but struggle to afford it. This exciting expansion of PHLConnectED eligibility will help ensure that cost is not a barrier to maintaining the internet when students need it more than ever.”
High-speed, reliable internet access through PHLConnectED can be accessed through an in-home internet connection or as a mobile hotspot for families who are experiencing homelessness, in-between homes, housing insecure or where in-home connection is not possible.
United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (United Way) serves as the coordinating agent for PHLConnectED. Those who want to take advantage of the program can call the United Way’s 211 hotline or go to phila.gov/PHLConnectED.
For more information on PCA’s Caregiver Support Program, Click Here>> or call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040.
Shannon Reyes is the public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.