How the Arizona business and nonprofit community is innovating during COVID-19 to aid students

Last updated 12/14/2020

Arizona’s business and nonprofit community has come together to support our students during the COVID-19 pandemic. From internet providers offering discounted service to JOANN stores making masks for schools, these groups have tapped their strengths for the greater good.

Here are a few of the most notable examples of how youth in our state are getting the help they need. Know of another example? Let us know and send us an email, so we can add to our growing list.

Learning aids

Arizona’s four-year public universities created an alliance to share best practices, innovate together, and discuss cost-effectiveness. The Arizona Innovation Alliance will aim to improve student outcomes, as measured by four-year and six-year graduation rates.

The Holbrook Pyle Foundation made a donation to the Aspire Arizona Foundation to help more college-goers afford books and tuition.

Schools at Arizona State University are finding innovative ways to ensure that students continue learning.

A $3 million grant to University of Arizona will help fund Outreach FAMILIA, which helps Hispanic students prepare for STEM through dual-enrollment courses.

The Center for the Future of Arizona, Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and KnowledgeWorks are working with Mesa Public Schools. The collaboration aims to create equitable learning outcomes through improved personalized learning.

College Success Arizona and the Helios Education Foundation partnered to create a college resiliency fund to help hundreds of college students cover expenses during the pandemic.

A partnership between the Governor’s office, Arizona Department Of Education, Helios Education Foundation, and Arizona State University is making professional development available to the state’s K-12 teachers. ASU Prep Digital’s Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute is helping educators adapt to their new virtual environment through a 3-day training covering best practices and tools for online instruction.

The Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF) is the recipient of a $100,000 Boeing grant supporting work in anti-racism and STEM in schools. The $100,000 grant given to the Arizona Educational Foundation is part of a $50 million investment over the next four years to confront racism and build more inclusive opportunities within the communities where Boeing resides. AEF’s new Our World program is a ground-breaking initiative that provides training and workshops on anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion for educators, businesses, and higher education. Training is designed and facilitated by Arizona Teachers of the Year and higher education partners. The Our World initiative will provide teachers with strategies to not only having constructive conversations with students about racism but also provide them with ideas for creating culturally inclusive classrooms where all students feel valued. With Boeing’s support, AEF will be able to provide the Our World initiative to any Arizona public school that wants the training free of charge.

Boeing also gave AEF funding for teachSTEM, a unique program for junior high and high school students that raises awareness about the need for more STEM teachers. teachSTEM provides classroom-based opportunities for students to build STEM workforce skills and also learn from STEM subject matter experts.

For years, United Way’s Vello program has supported students through a unique virtual mentoring program. The program has pivoted to help address the “COVID slide.” The reading program will offer online sessions between volunteers and students in their home, instead of in the classroom. Even before virtual learning was a certainty for the 2020-21 school year, the Vello Team established a Summer At-home Pilot with the Murphy School District in Phoenix and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia to refine the at-home version of the program.

Read Better Be Better (RBBB) has found a way to continue serving students in their 10 partner school districts. Because after-school programs might not be able to continue in their previous forms, RBBB created the Read Better Be Better Family Literacy Program and Read Better Be Better At Home. The Family Literacy Kits, which are available for free, allow families to replicate the RBBB after-school program at home.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness (GEAR UP), the federally funded college readiness program, has enlisted ASU students to tutor and mentor middle school students. During school closures, these sessions became virtual to ensure that students could stay on track educationally. Through one-on-one work, these mentors help with academics, social-emotional growth and other guidance.

To help workers reskill, Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) has teamed up with the National Governors Association and the American Association of Community Colleges. The groups are launching the Reskilling and Recovery Network, which will help ensure those impacted by COVID-19 can grow their professional skills and pursue opportunities to connect with employers.

Health and wellness

Telemedicine access is being offered through a partnership between Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District and Mariposa Community Health Center. In this rural community, having access to healthcare will ensure that students are ready to learn.

Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH) Health Centers are expanding their oral health programs thanks to a $100,000 IMPACT Grant from Delta Dental. The funds are much needed – it’s estimated that more than half of Arizona kindergartners have dental cavities. The two-year grant will benefit the Smiles for Kids school-based oral health program, which has provided in-person oral health education, dental screenings, and fluoride varnish services to over 3,000 children at primarily Title 1 elementary schools.

JOANN, the chain of nearly 900 fabric and craft stores, is helping to ensure that schools have the masks they need. Through their Masks for Schools program, every pre-made protective face mask purchased at a JOANN store resulted in one being donated to a school in need. The retailer has also made free sewing patterns.

Technology

In Arizona today there are an estimated 288,000 households that don’t have access to internet. Cox Connect2Compete and CenturyLink Lifeline are available to low-income households to help them get connected and ensure that kids can access learning opportunities.

Cox Communications announced a critical increase in the speed of Cox’s Connect2Compete internet service. Starting Friday, December 11, Cox will temporarily double the Connect2Compete speed to 50 mbps/download for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year in all Cox markets, giving families and students peace of mind to complete schoolwork, communicate with teachers, and have the same opportunities to access information as their classmates. The Connect2Compete plan is a low-cost internet plan designed to augment the educational opportunities of low-income children who do not have a reliable and affordable internet connection at home. This Cox internet package is offered to students and families receiving government assistance such as reduced or free school lunch, SNAP benefits, or public housing.

Three Glendale teenagers launched a fundraising campaign and earned more than $20,000 to help inner city families pay for internet. They’re helping 250 families in the Alhambra school district.

To aid families that didn’t have an internet-enabled device in the home, the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation partnered with Data Doctors, Cox Communications, Arizona Students Recycling Used Technology (AZ StRUT), School Connect AZ, the Office of Maricopa County School Superintendent, and Lyft. The groups asked community members and businesses to donate laptops that could be refurbished and provided to students.

The Million Dollar Teacher Project launched the TITLE I TECH initiative to ensure that students had adequate access to the technology they need (tablets, laptops, internet access, etc) for virtual learning. Schools, districts and teachers could apply for financial support to aid in getting their students connected in whatever way they needed.

The team at Casa Grande Elementary School District engaged with city officials and Mitrelink, a regional internet service provider, to secure free internet access for both staff and students. This landmark agreement will mean free internet for the next five years for those who need it most. Additionally, the city provided $100,000 so that the district could purchase hotspots and other essentials.

Connect Arizona WiFi: As schools begin online instruction this month, a coalition of statewide organizations realized that 200,000 Arizona families will struggle to access internet with enough bandwidth to facilitate virtual instruction. In collaboration with the AZ State Library, School Connect, Common Sense Media, the Commerce Authority and the AZ Broadband Stakeholder Network, the Connect Arizona website provides an interactive map of Free Wifi spots across the state (public libraries, schools, internet providers, community organizations).

This website is available in English and Spanish and provides:

  • Easy access on mobile phones
  • Simple training on how to access a hotspot
  • Free Tech Support phoneline by Arizona public library staff (AZ LibTAP)
  • Special discounts provided by Arizona internet providers
  • Google Map with step by step directions to get to these free WiFi spots.

Would you like your school/business/organization included as sites of free internet for families? 

  • Please complete the form on our website to add your school, business, or community center to the Free WiFi Map.
  • Questions? Contact info@schoolconnectaz.org