Organizations look to bridge digital divide in Jacksonville families

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Not all students have access to a computer at home to do their schoolwork, and some don’t even have access to the internet, to begin with.

Oftentimes this occurs in foster families or what is called kinship care families.

Jacksonville local Darrell Johnson is taking on a task most people don’t expect to in their 60s. He is the full-time caretaker for his grandchildren Tarzan and Amir.

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Tarzan is ten years old and Amir is three. Johnson said he’s been looking after them for several years now.

However, raising kids today is pretty different from what he remembers.

“It’s been a little hectic for me because I wasn’t set for this but as it goes along we’re becoming better,” Johnson said.

That adjustment includes modern-day education, which requires access to technology.

Most of us use technology for almost everything but when some don’t have access to the internet, it cuts them off from schoolwork, online tutoring and other daily activities.

That’s the challenge Johnson and dozens of other families face in Jacksonville.

It’s called the digital divide, which compares households with and without internet or computer access.

The greater that divide, the greater the disadvantage for kids in the classroom. That’s why Sunshine Health and its parent company Centene Corporation donated laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots to foster care agencies across Florida.

In Duval County, 100 laptops and 300 hot spots were handed out via Family Support Services of North Florida.

“So much school work now happens at home and it happens on technology. It requires the internet if you’re writing papers or just accessing your homework assignments. It happens online, especially during this pandemic,” FSS of North Florida Vice President of Placement Resources Tory Wilson said.

The donations were targeted toward kids in kinship care.

“These caregivers didn’t know they’d be taking in their neighbors’ children, their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews, so they really weren’t prepared to have their homes ready to take this step in their lives,” Wilson said.

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FSS officials also said many children in foster care deal with mental and emotional trauma, which could in turn disrupt their education. Stable and functional technology can give kids a tremendous advantage.

It helps out people like Johnson, who were unexpectedly put into this position. Moreover, it helps Tarzan stay on top of his studies, and gives Amir a head start on his.