Donation helping San Diego students learn online without having to connect to WiFi

Posted at 3:14 PM, Aug 07, 2020

The pandemic has exposed a long-standing problem across the county: a lack of internet access in homes. And for most families, the switch to virtual learning came without warning.

"Yes, there was an announcement, and my initial thought was not fear, more of daunting. I was overwhelmed," said San Diego mother Paula Gosswiller.

Because for Gosswiller, it meant having to convert her kitchen into a classroom for five.

Ranging from ages 5 to 13, all of her school-aged kids are in different grades.

"We did not have internet at the time in our house, and just the thought of homeschooling without internet or technology was daunting," said Gosswiller.

The kids attend St. Ritas Catholic School in southeast San Diego, which was able to secure enough devices for each student before the school year, thanks to a donation. When school went virtual, they deployed the iPads and Chromebooks to students in need.

"The inconsistency of internet and things like that, really made it challenging for a lot of our families," said Principal Gina Olsen.

Olsen says nearly half of the students needed to borrow a device when the school went virtual. She says they were also grateful to receive a grant from the Southeastern San Diego COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, to help cover missed tuition payments for students.

Like many families, the Gosswiller's were forced to add an internet bill to their list of expenses, but not all can afford to do this.

"I think the statistics are something like 1 in 4 kids in the U.S. don't have access to WiFi at home. Before the pandemic, they could stay after school, they could go to a library, maybe a McDonald's parking lot or a Starbucks," said Angela Baker, who runs corporate responsibility at Qualcomm.

Located in San Diego, the tech giant Qualcomm helped turned our cellphones into smartphones with its modem chips. Now, they're putting some of that technology into computers.

"With people getting so used to their smartphones, and the experience of always being on, great battery life, being able to use it anywhere you are, no matter where you are, we kind of took that concept and applied it to the PC market," said Pete Lancia, who runs external communications at Qualcomm.

With help from manufacturing partners, Qualcomm built computers with cellular connectivity that don't require WiFi to get online. They donated 900 to students in the San Diego Unified School District.

"We really need to make sure that kids have access to broadband at speeds that will let them do their homework, watch videos, see the instruction if that's being done, now that we know so many schools are probably going to be online," said Baker.

And like your smartphone, the battery is designed to last all day.

"I think this was a wake-up call for everyone," said Gosswiller.

She says her family is making it work, navigating the challenges as they go.

"We're ready to take it on and mark the days off the calendar when they can go back to school physically," she said.