“Our kids were left behind. Many didn’t have internet or devices and could not perform basic computer tasks”

Educators and leaders share real life impacts of the homework gap

Last year in March, schools in America shifted to distance learning due to the global pandemic and Crystal Eldringhoff, a teacher at Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, noticed an immediate problem. Students had difficulties with logging in, screensharing, bandwidth and internet speed. Frustrations began to compound. “When you have students miss class because of internet issues, it makes everything so much more complicated. They fall behind.”

This is just one example of some of the frustrations that many students, families and teachers have experienced for more than a year. Having quality internet connectivity and technology is vital for students to succeed in distance learning. To help, AT&T teamed up with leading nonprofit Connected Nation in February 2021 to provide at risk students in more than 100 organizations and schools across the country with free wireless hotspots as well as wireless data and content filtering services for a year.

Now, these devices are being delivered to students across the country. Leaders and educators shared more about their experiences helping students continue to learn during the pandemic.

Roots and Wings – Delray Beach, FL

As a former elementary school teacher, Ted Hoskinson founded Roots and Wings to serve kids and families in need – a mission originally developed by he and his wife, Anne. After Anne’s unexpected passing in 2016, Ted established the organization in her honor and began its work of providing after-school support for second and third grade students at risk of failing their Florida Standard Assessment in reading. This work became more difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic magnified our country’s digital divide in the spring of 2020. “Students were dramatically affected,” said Hoskinson, as many kids did not initially receive sufficient technology to complete their schoolwork. “This problem was compounded by the fact that internet connectivity was not easily accessible in many underserved communities.”

In December around the 2020-21 season tip off, AT&T and the NBA created a retweet for good campaign that donated an additional $100k to Connected Nation to help close the homework gap. Thanks to those efforts, Roots and Wings will receive 240 hotspots, 120 personal learning devices and internet service in advance of the upcoming school year that will give extra resources to children who may need more support to advance their learning. AT&T and the NBA told students at Orchard View and Pine Grove Elementary schools – Roots and Wings’ supported schools – in a special way. They called Bam Adebayo, a Miami Heat player with a passion for education, to surprise the students by virtually dropping into their classrooms. Hoskinson described the moment as “pure excitement” for the kids. Aside from delivering the tremendous news, Bam also offered words of encouragement. “He mentioned how many hours he practices each day, even in the offseason. Children need to know that to be a success one must work hard. It starts by showing up.”

Southeast Community Development Corporation – Los Angeles, CA

Southeast Community Development Corporation (SCDC) faced the worsening effects of the digital divide for years. The nonprofit works with vulnerable students in Los Angeles county.  Many of their students struggled to afford internet ­­even before the pandemic. As kids became increasingly disconnected over the last year, the organization grappled with how to engage children. “Our kids were left behind. Many didn’t have internet or devices and could not perform basic computer tasks,” shared Executive Director Emma Hernandez. Those with devices encountered unique challenges, too, including unstable hotspots, slow connections and not enough bandwidth for the number of children participating in virtual learning in one household.

Connected Nation sent them 500 AT&T hotspots and free AT&T internet connectivity so their students can use them for online learning this summer and next year. SCDC is also doing everything it can to keep kids technologically savvy long-term. “We provide students with STEM programing so they can learn the basics of digital literacy for their generation, like coding, understanding what’s behind an app, how electronics get programmed and more.” 


Hmong American Peace Academy – Milwaukee, WI

Hmong American Peace Academy (HAPA) was established as a charter school of Milwaukee Public Schools to help students become knowledgeable American citizens while preserving the Hmong culture and language. The school is attended primarily by Asian students who live at or below the poverty line, several of whom come from refugee families. “Internet can be expensive for our families, and with the language barrier, it was particularly hard to set up new devices and service,” said Luke McAvoy, Director of Operations.

With 500 AT&T hotspots and free AT&T internet connectivity that were provided by Connected Nation, kids now have the tools they need to succeed. McAvoy has described parent engagement as “through the roof” since implementing the new technology – a testament to what can be accomplished between families and educators when digital barriers are removed. As the Academy launches its summer school program, internet access will keep kids on track through a self-paced model that allows students to move forward at their own comfortability. 


Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School – Baton Rouge, LA

Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, whose student population is 100% low income, transitioned to virtual learning last year. Teacher Cecile Morgan struggled to communicate with students who did not have proper internet access. Though educators provided hard copies of educational materials to hard-to-reach families, these kids remained at a “horrible disadvantage,” said Morgan. 

President Eric Engemann has noticed a difference since receiving 50 AT&T hotspots and free AT&T internet connectivity that were provided by Connected Nation. “Hotspots help with mobility. Sometimes kids are in two different households and don’t have internet at both places. Being able to do work on-the-go is useful.”

In fact, several teachers report that online learning technology can be beneficial. “This technology is here to stay. There are a lot of things that the pandemic has forced us into that are actually good,” said Morgan. “We were already competing against technology because kids would go home every day and play games. But now we’re using it to teach, and the fact that students are using technology in an educational setting gets them more involved.”

Our collaboration with Connected Nation is just one way we’re working to close the digital divide and narrow the homework gap. In April we announced the AT&T Connected Learning program, which is part of our companywide $2 billion, 3-year commitment to bridge the digital divide. The program aims to help stem learning loss, narrow the homework gap, and deliver high quality learning experiences anywhere today’s connected students learn.

Learn more about Connected Nation and our collaboration here.