Two little girls were pictured sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk outside a Salinas Valley Taco Bell, accessing the eatery’s free WiFi to do their school work. The photo has reignited a debate about access to technology.
The heart-wrenching image was first shared by an Instagram user named Mamie Robinson on Aug. 25, who explained that the touching shot was sent to her by her mom. “A lot of us don’t have to worry about having a proper WiFi connection or a quiet place to work from home,” Robinson commented.
“Every student from preschool through college should have free access to reliable WiFi, especially now,” she continued, posing a question to her followers: “What can we do as a community to pull together for students who need something as simple as WiFi in order to succeed?”
The photo depicts the girls sitting together on the sidewalk facing two Taco Bell servers, who have exited the eatery to investigate; one stands, while the other has squatted down to meet the young students at eye level.
A spokesperson for Taco Bell Corp. told CNN in a statement that the snapshot is a “tough reminder” of the basic inequalities facing the Salinas Valley community. “[T]he owner of this restaurant is looking into additional ways to support these students and the broader community,” they further added.
Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, who also noticed the photo circulating on social media and shared it on Twitter, hailed the image as a reason to strive harder. “[T]his is an embarrassment,” he commented. “Salinas Valley is 45 minutes from Silicon Valley and here we have such a huge divide that’s gone on for years, but now it’s only amplified because of this pandemic.”
He also explained that there are thousands of other kids in the community who face this predicament. “In Salinas, there’s a lot of homes and a lot of parents who don’t even know how to use computers or how hotspots work,” he continued.
However, the girls in the photo were quickly identified by the Salinas City Elementary School District (SCESD), and a solution was forthcoming; they were both gifted hotspots and shown how to use them, allowing them to attend classroom instructions from their home.
Richard Gebin, SCESD’s public relations officer, claimed that the district is in “full distance learning mode” and has distributed a grand total of 8,245 Chromebooks and 1,500 hotspots to date, with an additional 2,500 hotspots waiting to be sent.
Robinson, inspired to support more socioeconomically deprived families in the area, fixed an addendum to her Instagram post. “If local businesses would like to donate their space to set up outdoor internet cafes, please let me know,” she said. “I would love to help rally up supplies and man power!”
In her post, she also urged others to “reach out to their community and help students in your area.”
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for matters related to information and communication technologies, an estimate of 46.7 percent of the global population was living without an internet connection at the end of 2019.
Additionally, digital divides are more pronounced in countries that have higher overall rates of connectivity. Between 15 million and 16 million K-12 public school students in the United States live in homes that are not equipped for distance learning, according to June 2020 data from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group.
Amy Ish, president of the SCESD, agreed in a statement according to CNN that digital divides are “very real”; however, she was grateful to know that the state was making priorities to technology and was looking forward to receiving hotspots in her district.
“Technology is so critical and we cannot view it as a luxury,” Alejo implored, speaking to CNN; “it’s a necessity of life, it should be seen as a utility like water, electricity, and gas.”
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