$1.3M Will Help Provide Additional WiFi, Meals To HCPSS Students

HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Students struggling to access WiFi in order to engage in virtual learning and families who cannot access food distribution centers for free meals will receive a boost via a $1.3 million investment to support Howard County Public School System families and students.

The $1.3 million investment will consist of:

  • $750,000 for the Howard County Scholars Program to provide in-person instruction to selected middle school students.

  • $450,000 to reduce the Digital Equity gap by providing free internet services for families in need, expanding broadband services, and providing additional public WiFi hotspots.

  • $100,000 to improve food access with free meal deliveries to those who cannot access food distribution centers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us. As a former educator and father to two public school students, I know firsthand that making sure our children receive a quality and rigorous education virtually is very challenging and can often be frustrating,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “The collaboration among DCRS, DTCS, the Office of Community Sustainability’s Roving Radish program, HCPSS and non-profit partners Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center and the Bright Minds Foundation has created a holistic approach through HoCo STRIVES that supports virtual education for our students and families who need it most.”

Michael J. Martirano, HCPSS superintendent, applauded the move.

“Improved internet access and technology to support learning, services that eliminate food insecurities and educational opportunities that overcome equity barriers will help to build upon the work we have done in this county over the last several months to help families support their children’s health, well-being and education,” he said.

Here is the funding broken down by grant and program:

Howard County Scholars Program – $750,000

The $750,000 of CARES Act funds will be directed toward the Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center which will administer the Howard County Scholars Program for in-person education of middle school students from September through December 2020. This program, at no cost to families, will engage students by supporting and supplementing virtual learning with social and emotional development and enrichment activities. The program’s goal is to provide as much individualized education as possible to maximize the students’ outcomes from the virtual learning experience while alleviating child care burdens for vulnerable families.

Current participating HCPSS Middle Schools include: Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Lake Elkhorn, Harper’s Choice, Elkridge Landing, Patuxent Valley, and Dunloggin. Following an assessment of the initial implementation of the program, additional schools may be added.

The Howard County Scholars Program consists of 12 students per class with an instructor and all teaching and facilities will abide by CDC COVID-19 requirements. Students will be given breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack and the County will also offer transportation at designated pickup spots to and from on-site learning locations to be held at the East Columbia, Bain, North Laurel, and Ellicott City 50+ Centers.

Digital Equity – $450,000

The $450,000 of the HoCo STRIVES CARES Act will fund 500 hotspots and free internet service to 500 families across the county to improve digital inclusion through a partnership between the Howard County Government, HCPSSS and the Bright Minds Foundation. The attached “heat map” shows areas identified where internet and broadband access is most in need.

Nine additional internet access points have also been provided or expanded to provide free public wifi access at the following locations:

  • Columbia Lakefront

  • Downtown area of Historic Ellicott City

  • Clarksville Commons

  • Long Reach Village Center

  • Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) – in the parking lot off of Trotter Rd

  • Gary Arthur Community Center – allowing for access from the parking lot

  • George Howard Building (GHB) – at the front courtyard near entrance area of the building

  • Blandair Regional Park

  • Kiwanis Wallace Park – near the back fields

Food Access – $100,000

The $100,000 of the HoCo STRIVES CARES Act funding will go to Howard County’s award-winning Roving Radish program to serve families who are unable to access other food resources in the county. This funding provides free meal kits and grocery boxes to 55 families per week and subsidized meal kits to 212 families.

The Roving Radish has distributed 8657 kits this year – nearly 3300 more meal kits, a 38 percent increase, from last year at this time. Recently, the Roving Radish team moved into a new retail space in the Long Reach Village Center that will enhance and improve their preparation and distribution of meal kits.

This article originally appeared on the Ellicott City Patch

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