For over 28,000 residents across Hamilton County, being back-to-school ready now includes being connected to no-cost internet through HCS EdConnect, powered by EPB.
Saturday, Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp and Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly issued a joint proclamation declaring Aug. 5 the Day of Digital Opportunity for Students and Families and recognizing the importance of the internet as an in-home tool necessary for student success, crediting the HCS EdConnect program for its ongoing community impact.
“This public-private partnership reflects the core values of Hamilton County, actively engaging parents into their children’s education and leaving no family behind,” said Mayor Wamp. “Thanks to EdConnect, students from across Hamilton County will have equal access to the tools of the digital world, significantly expanding their educational opportunities.”
HCS EdConnect is a partnership between Hamilton County Schools, EPB and The Enterprise Center to bring high-speed, no-cost Wi-Fi to qualifying students and their families. To sign up, parents or guardians simply have to request it through their youngest child’s school office. And at Saturday’s HCS Back To School Bash, attending families had the opportunity to connect with EPB directly and those who qualified received a start date for the service.
“HCS EdConnect helps ensure that every parent has the opportunity to be engaged with their child’s learning,” said Mayor Kelly. “We know a student’s success is about more than getting homework done: It’s a parent checking out a book to read from our Public Library at night, scheduling a telehealth checkup, or building their own skills for a good-paying job. And it’s our non-profit community’s ability to connect with families. HCS EdConnect is a nationally recognized program and is a real game changer in terms of how the entire community supports our students.”
“As HCS EdConnect enters its fourth year, Hamilton County Schools are the best connected in the country,” agreed HCS Superintendent Justin Robertson. “Our educators are expanding the walls of the classroom, supporting students pursuing individual passions, and preparing this next generation to chart their own course in a technology-fueled future, because they know every student can stay connected. Student well-being is at the heart of our Opportunity 2030 strategic plan, and HCS EdConnect is crucial infrastructure for that goal.”
Since launching in July 2020 to provide home-based internet service at no cost to every K-12 student in need in Hamilton County, HCS EdConnect, powered by EPB, has grown to serve over 16,000 students – who with their families represent more than 28,000 Chattanooga area residents who benefit from the program.
“HCS EdConnect embodies EPB’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in our community through the services we offer,” said EPB President and CEO David Wade. “Having access to high-speed internet at home opens new possibilities for children and families. We’re committed, through HCS EdConnect, to ensuring every Hamilton County student has the opportunities, and the connectivity, to thrive in an ever-advancing educational environment.”
“We heard from one parent, ‘My child was behind in math and reading as well as motor skill issues and needed supplemental help. Once provided the right supplemental resources to work on at home she’s made tremendous gains in math and reading,'” shared Dr. Damian Bebell, assistant research professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, who works with the project. “And our evaluation has born out the positive impact connectivity has had on parents’ regular communication with their children’s schools, and on their positive beliefs regarding technology’s impact on reading, math and creativity.”
In addition to making it possible for parents and teachers to meet virtually and communicate more regularly, HCS EdConnect powered by EPB provides parents with continuing access to their child’s progress. The program also affords older students and parents opportunities to pursue ongoing education online and search for jobs while contributing positively to the health of the household through telehealth and access to other healthcare resources.
The program has been hailed as a national model because it guarantees year-round internet access at no charge to every family with students in need for at least 10 years – with plans to raise more funds as needed to maintain the program indefinitely.
“I’ve had the opportunity to present some of the research our partners at Boston College and UTC have conducted alongside HCS EdConnect, and there is no program like it nationally especially with regard to the quality of service and its longevity,” said The Enterprise Center CEO Deb Socia. “The program is an ongoing testament to not only the impact connectivity has on our students and families, but to the care and commitment our community has for every neighbor and in every neighborhood.”
HCS EdConnect is a public-private partnership made possible through support and engagement from Hamilton County, Hamilton County Schools, the City of Chattanooga, EPB, The Enterprise Center, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, The Benwood Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, the Footprint Foundation, The Maclellan Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, private donors and CARES funding from the State of Tennessee.
To find out more about HCS EdConnect or enroll in the program today, visit www.edconnect.org/.