MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - As Arizona school districts continue to make tough decisions about whether to stay online or return to in-person learning, the Maricopa County Library District is doing its part to help make learning from home a little easier.
There will be expanded access to WiFi hotspots and Chromebooks at all 18 branches of the county's library system. And for large families and ones living in rural areas, this expanded access has a chance to improve the overall virtual learning experience.
Valentine Hernandez lives in Phoenix with his wife and four kids, all of them attending school virtually. "I had to upgrade my internet, so I'm paying a little bit more on bills," says Hernandez. "But that's what it takes to get the kids the learning they need."
Having a second way of accessing the internet could be a gamechanger for Valentine, both educationally and financially. "If that was to happen, I'd really take advantage of that," Hernandez says.
Only four Maricopa County library branches used to offer the service, but now anyone with a county library card (which is free for county residents and property owners) can borrow this technology.
It's a step that will no doubt benefit several families in the county and help narrow the digital divide. But Arizona Federation of Teachers President Ralph Quintana warns about losing sight of what he thinks is the bigger issue. "I don't think we understand that the reason why a lot of working-class and poorer community kids are already behind is because of the social divide," says Quintana.
That's something that he thinks can only be overcome by returning to in-person learning. "You have a bunch of working-class, working parents that are gone during the day. So these kids are expected to do school with no parental support. Just sitting in front of a computer for 5-8 hours a day is too much," says Quintana. "Our kids are burned out, and we're at the point now where we need traditional school."
But for those like Valentine Hernandez's family, who don't currently have this option available, a free chance at making a less-than-ideal situation even slightly just more tolerable goes a long way. "Everything's on the internet; everything's computer-based right now," says Hernandez. "Nothing is in person. So it will definitely help out those families that don't have internet or proper internet and they'll be able to help their kids learn."