Barrington Community Unit School District 220 launched a program titled “Project Horsepower,” through partnerships with Comcast and Netgear, to provide about 700 low-income households with Internet access and WiFi at home.
The Barrington Area Development Council (BADC) is raising funds to offset the cost, approximately $85,000 a year to provide Internet access through Comcast’s Internet Essentials. Project Horsepower will be available to families who qualify for the Federal Free-and-Reduced Lunch Program.
“We believe Project Horsepower will address a critical unmet need, one of vital importance to the 21st century education for all students,” Joe Kelsch, BADC’s director.
Barrington 220 started its 1:1 initiative this fall, assigning laptops to all middle school students. However, the District recognized some students do not have Internet access at home, limiting their ability to do homework, do research for school projects and access teachers or schoolwork remotely, said Dr. Tom Leonard, Barrington 220 superintendent of schools.
“Kids now need that access,” he said.
Eighteen percent of the district 9,000 students qualify for the Federal Free-and-Reduced Lunch Program, Leonard said. The District estimates 1,500 students will be eligible for Project Horsepower.
The cost for Comcast’s Internet Essentials is $9.95 per month but Barrington 220 is buying the service in bulk with financial support from BADC. Installation is also free.
Comcast’s Internet Essentials is offered to families who qualify for free or reduced lunch the $9.95. The program was launched two years ago in Chicago. The regular cost of Internet access is $40 per month.
Netgear’s role is to provide a free router for WiFi access. The California company is sending out 700 WiFi routers within the next month to families, said Robin Selden, chief marketing officer for Netgear, based in California.
Project Horsepower should be implemented by January 2014, Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Jaskowiak said. Families who qualify for the program will be notified by next month and must fill out an application from Comcast.
Next year, Project Horsepower will be expanded to include children in elementary school, Jaskowiak said.
“I’m very excited for our students and our community,” said Jaskowiak, who worked on the project for a few years. “It shows how people can come together to provide opportunities for our students.”