One of the biggest challenges we’re seeing with distance learning is that many families who live in low-income, urban areas simply do not have the resources to be able to adequately teach their children at home. Though most school districts have been able to distribute laptops, other hurdles include childcare (for single parents, in particular), lack of workspaces, and even having access to a secure WiFi connection.
Sadly, such was the case of two Salinas, California girls who were seen using their laptops in a local Taco Bell parking lot so they could connect to the fast-food restaurant’s WiFi to complete their lessons. But thankfully, this story has a happy ending.
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My mom sent me this picture today. These 2 young girls were looking for a place with WiFi to do their school work so they sat near Taco Bell to connect to the free WiFi. A lot of us don’t have to worry about having a proper WiFi connection or a quiet place to work from home. Every student from preschool through college should have free access to reliable WiFi especially now. What can we do as a community to pull together for students who need something as simple as WiFi in order to succeed? Please share and tag people in our community who can help. UPDATE: THE GIRLS WERE IDENTIFIED BY THEIR SCHOOL DISTRICT AND GIVEN HOTSPOTS! I’M SURE THERE ARE OTHER CHILDREN IN NEED, I AM HOPING THEY ALL GET THE TOOLS THEY NEED! IF LOCAL BUSINESSES WOULD LIKE TO DONATE THEIR SPACE TO SET UP OUTDOOR INTERNET CAFES, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I WOULD LOVE TO HELP RALLY UP SUPPLIES AND MAN POWER! I ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO REACH OUT TO YOUR OWN COMMUNITIES TO HELP STUDENTS IN YOUR AREA PLEASE CHECK OUT THE UPDATE ON THE FALSE POLICE ALLEGATIONS MADE BY A REPOSTER OF THIS PICTURE! DO HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU DONATE TO ANYONE. UNFORTUNATELY THERE IS QUESTIONABLE BEHAVIOR. HOPING THAT THOSE HELPING HAVE GOOD INTENTIONS. 😞 Although I appreciate it, please don’t follow my page. It’s only public for now because of this picture but I will be erasing all new followers. #freewifi #salinas #equityineducation #socialinjustice #socialinequality #educationmatters #wififorall #educationforall #salinascalifornia #digitaldivide #cometogether #communitylove #ittakesavillage #saveourkids #dosomething
The scene was captured in the above Instagram post, which quickly went viral, and it wasn’t long before the girls were identified. Thanks to an anonymous tip from a neighbor, a woman named Jackie Lopez reached out to the girls’ mother Juana, who confessed that the family of three was about to be evicted from a small bedroom they shared in a home they had been living in.
It was then that Lopez got the idea to start a GoFundMe campaign for the family, which has exceeded its $20,000 goal to the tune of $145,000 and counting!
In the short term, Lopez writes on the campaign page, they were able to secure a hotel room for Juana and her daughters to stay temporarily. But in addition to accepting donations, they’re still searching for a permanent place for the family to live. They also found an accountant to help Juana manage these funds.
For now they are safe but they need as much help as they can get. Thank you for helping change their lives. All children deserve a happy place to live and because of their dedication, these little girls deserve a safe space to learn. We appreciate every single one of you for helping making that happen.
Though the Salinas City Elementary School District, where the girls attend classes, is not affiliated in any way with the GoFundMe campaign, they did provide them with a hotspot shortly after the photo began going viral.
“The digital divide is very real and delays in receiving needed technology are a statewide concern,” Salinas City Elementary School District President Amy Ish said in a statement. “We are grateful the State is making technology a priority and look forward to receiving these hotspots in our District.”
The school district is in full distance learning mode for its nearly 8,500 students. So far, the district has already distributed 8,245 Chromebooks, 1,500 hotspots, and is waiting on an additional 2,500 hotspots.
A spokesperson for Taco Bell Corp. told USA Today that the photo is “a tough reminder of basic inequalities facing our communities.”
“We and our franchisees have always been passionate about supporting youth education, and the owner of this restaurant is looking into additional ways to support these students and the broader community,” the spokesperson added.
The original image has since been shared widely on social media to highlight the basic inequalities many families are facing during this public health crisis.
Two students sit outside a Taco Bell to use Wi-Fi so they can 'go to school' online.— Kevin de Leόn (@kdeleon) August 28, 2020
This is California, home to Silicon Valley...but where the digital divide is as deep as ever.
Where 40% of all Latinos don't have internet access. This generation deserves better. pic.twitter.com/iJPXvcxsLQ
Two latino children in the US sit outside a Taco Bell for free WiFi so they can study.— Stephen Reicher (@ReicherStephen) August 31, 2020
This is the desperate reality of 'blended learning' or 'study at home' for poor children the world over.
Unless the government provides free IT, free WiFi and free study spaces for all students pic.twitter.com/ghdDbGNxj6
This is in Salinas, CA— just south of the Bay Area. Small children sitting outside a Taco Bell to be able to get WiFi so they can attend school. When we think about remote learning, we need to stop thinking of it through the lens of people with money and safe housing. pic.twitter.com/bLU1kIR9D7— Stephanie Hurlburt (@sehurlburt) August 26, 2020
2 of our children trying to get WiFi for their classes outside a Taco Bell in East Salinas! We must do better & solve this digital divide once &for all for all California students— Luis Alejo (@SupervisorAlejo) August 26, 2020
CALIFORNIA NEEDS A UNIVERSAL BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE BOND FOR OUR STUDENTShttps://t.co/qEjWTTs6G8 pic.twitter.com/cAbXNJ6F7x
Two female students in front of a Taco Bell trying to access WiFi to finish their work. Let’s remember just because students are in a class, doesn’t mean they have access to all the resources. Not everyone has access to sustainable WiFi; it can be a luxury for some families. pic.twitter.com/m0i5Pl99ZM— Andréa Rodriguez (@FutureDr_Drea) August 27, 2020
Luckily for this family, they evidently picked the right Taco Bell parking lot to work in, but their story also serves as a stark reminder that so many families like them are in need of help.