With a crowd of elementary students quietly listening, McAllen Independent School District Superintendent J. A. Gonzalez and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling announced a new program developed by the two entities to provide low-cost internet service for McAllen ISD families.
According to Gonzalez, after the school district issued iPads and Chrome books to its students several years ago, this allowed students to expand their education. However, it also posed a challenge. Once students leave campus, they may not have access to internet service. A video presented at the announcement event featured a McAllen ISD student who has to walk two miles to access a wifi location because the family cannot afford internet service at home.
“We’re excited to open up wonderful new learning opportunities for our students and their families,” McAllen ISD Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez, Ed.D., said. “The McAllen Independent School District is one of the first and largest school districts in the nation to issue electronic learning devices to students in pre-kinder through 12th grade on a one-to-one basis. This new joint venture between McAllen ISD and the City of McAllen is destined to offer new platforms of discovery and learning that will greatly benefit our students. Providing a cost-effective method for families will decrease the digital divide and increase learning.”
“Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and the city of McAllen specifically is a community where poverty and other socio-economic factors prohibit every home from having internet service,” City of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said. “For school children today, immediate access to the internet is not just a luxury, it is a necessity. While students now receive smart tablets from their school to help them with assignments, without home internet service, the devices aren’t much help after school lets out. This affordable, low-cost home internet service will ensure that McAllen ISD school children can continue their learning, even at home.”
According to Gonzalez, while students are on campus, they have access to the internet, and they can do their assignments. But, for many students, they cannot do that because they do not have access to the internet at home. That is why the school district and the city worked to be able to bring internet access to students in their homes.
According to McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, the city had been working on the project for a number of years before settling on this arrangement with AT&T. The infrastructure is already in place in many areas around the city. This should provide access to approximately 8,000 homes and about 12,000 MISD students.
The city had explored the possibility of setting up store-front locations as well as wifi at city facilities. However, security concerns made some of the options difficult to implement.
Additionally, Darling explained that the city explored a city-wide wifi system. The $18 million cost proved prohibitive. He also added that a regional approach would be good for the population but might prove difficult in the rural areas where the infrastructure is not available.
Once this project is implemented, the city and the school district will look at other ways to provide internet access to those families that either do not qualify for the low-cost service program or do not live in an area where infrastructure is available.
Families may qualify at a discounted rate of $5-$10 per month. The low-cost home internet service is available to SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) participants. These are families which would normally qualify for free meals; however, McAllen ISD provides free meals to all students.
Currently, nearly 72 percent of McAllen ISD families are considered low socio-economic.
McAllen ISD families can apply online at att.com/access or with assistance at these facilities:
• McAllen Public Library (4001 N. 23rd St.)
• Boys & Girls Club of McAllen (4501 N. 34th St.)
• Lark Community Center (2601 Lark Ave.)
• Las Palmas Community Center (1921 N. 25th St.)
• Palm View Community Center (3401 Jordan Road)
• Verify you are a SNAP participant
• Check service availability at att.com/access
• Have SNAP card and Government ID ready
McAllen city and MISD staff will be on hand at the sites listed above to help families apply for the program.