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

Last updated 8/30/2020

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

A new 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.

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.

Knowing that many students needed support during virtual learning, Arizona Sunrays and Impact Gymnastics in Phoenix both offered academic programs for grades K-10. Staff watch over kids during their virtual learning and add special, structured activities.

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 would result 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.

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 web site 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