Kalamazoo Public School students without internet can borrow one of 1,000 wireless hotspots

A partnership to provide free internet service and routers to 1,000 Kalamazoo Public School families before the next school year got the go-ahead with city approval on June 16. 

The Digital Access for All collaboration includes Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and the city. The Kalamazoo City Commission approved funding, amending the budget to allocate $200,000 from the Foundation for Excellence Aspirational Fund. The Promise and KPS will each support the venture with $50,000. 

“Access to the Internet has already become more of a necessity than a luxury, even without a pandemic,” says Ryan Wieber, Director of Kalamazoo Public Library. “It is essential for learning, and a critical part of education.”

The venture was launched after Governor Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order to stem the COVID19 pandemic sent pre-K through 12th-grade learning online in mid-March. Until school wrapped up in June, instructional and support services were provided by teachers and staff online, with Chromebooks going home with students, and area cable providers offering free internet service. Still, an estimated 2,000 students had no internet access. 

Von Washington Jr. says: "For Kalamazoo to truly be an education community… we are responsible for reducing barriers that have long stifled the educational outcomes of marginalized communities.”  “This is a big step towards eliminating the digital divide and making sure that all students have opportunities to advance,” says new KPS Superintendent Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri.

Teachers throughout the system pivoted with skill to meet the needs of their students, but class participation varied, with a number of families in each school unable to participate. Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo Senior Director of Site Services Dr. Tamiko Garrett says CIS staff were on the front lines helping with the transition to online learning.  

“When we had to transition to online learning, our staff were instrumental in helping distribute the Chromebooks to students, and connect families to internet providers.” 

Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations for The Kalamazoo Promise, lauds the speed of the initiative, and the urgency of bringing access to families. 

“Recognizing the digital divide that exists within our community and taking action to address that divide is critical, says Community Foundation President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway.“The executive order that closed public schools exacerbated the educational inequities present in our community. It was imperative that community partners collaborate to address unequal access to wi-fi, both now and into the future. For Kalamazoo to truly be an education community… we are responsible for reducing barriers that have long stifled the educational outcomes of marginalized communities.”  

In order to provide Internet access to students who do not have it, hotspots and services are being purchased for students to borrow from the Kalamazoo Public Library as a part of the already established OneCard program, which allows students to borrow books, movies, and other items.  

The Kalamazoo Community Foundation has created a dedicated fund specific to the Digital Access for All initiative.


“Recognizing the digital divide that exists within our community and taking action to address that divide is critical, says Community Foundation President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway. 

Further information from the school district will be provided to families in the coming weeks. 

Read more articles by Katie Houston.

Katie Houston is a freelance writer and occasional actor whose clients have included the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. 
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