Two Young Drake Fans Recently Used Taco Bell to Get WiFi: What Happens Next Could Immediately Make or Break the US Public School System
An uncomfortable situation recently accelerated a debate that had been going on for quite some time across America: two young kids sitting on the concrete outside of a Taco Bell street corner to gain access to much-needed Wi-Fi. As schools across the country scrambled to accommodate virtual students for the beginning of the 2020 school year amidst Covid-19 shutdowns and various quarantines and lockdowns, school systems, teachers, and students were left holding the bag as the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots widened.
Salinas, California, the viral Taco Bell Wi-Fi Fiasco site, is no different, with an estimated 40% of the student population without internet access at home. “These regular, 8 to 13-year-old kids, who listen to Drake, like to go out with her friends, go to movies, play sports – they just want to have fun like any kids”, says Richard Gebin, public relations officer for the Salinas City Elementary School District. “When you think that they might not have access to what most people consider to be modern commodities, your heart sinks. This is a community that’s just 75 miles from one of the largest tech Innovation areas in the world in Silicon Valley.”
According to Luis Alvarez, founder of Alvarez Technology Group, a leading IT services company in Salinas, California, CHISPA, a local real estate developer, has been a great partner for them, working with the community to build housing units for low-income families and make them livable with amenities like washer and dryer units, and free Wi-Fi. Recently Alvarez Technology has been working with them under a joint partnership with T-Mobile to ensure that common areas are fitted with public Wi-Fi and provide free hotspots to community members that would not otherwise have access.
Other businesses are stepping up to the plate, including Salinas City Elementary School District, that is buying hotspots for their students, along with the Monterey County Office of Education, that provides refurbished Chromebooks for families that have less than one computer per student. These efforts will go a long way to bridging the digital divide that keeps students from completing their school-specific tasks.
Some unofficial fundraisers have been popping up in and around Northern California, some of which are more trustworthy than others, especially considering that school districts already have a built-in infrastructure to distribute money for these purposes. On the contrary, GoFundMe funds are often difficult to verify when it comes to where funds are going and how they will be used. In the end, however, it is our students and community members who must come together to find ways to offer our resources to each other. It is not difficult to imagine the alternative, which could be a world where our youth is unprepared for the future’s uncertainty.