Jared Carroll and Vanessa Vargas are the project team to support the Staten Island Alliance for North Shore Children and Families (The SI Alliance). The SI Alliance, whose coordination efforts have been spearheaded by the Institute for the last two years, is a collective impact initiative that brings together diverse community stakeholders and partners under a shared mission that by 2022 they will improve the overall well being of children ages birth through eight years old in the North Shore community of Staten Island.
According to a Citizen’s Committee for Children (CCC) report from 2018, the North Shore exists as a microcosm of New York City — representing tremendous racial and economic diversity. Few community districts in the city however, have such intense disparities in access to opportunities and services as can be found on the North Shore:
“The stark disparities that exist on the North Shore are echoed when looking across the six domains we use to understand child well-being—economic security, housing, health, education, youth, and family and community. For [many] the experience of living on the North Shore is… marked by employment instability, paying an unsustainable amount of income on rent, dealing with exposure to violence in the community, and lacking access to health, education, and critical social services that children and families need to both meet basic needs and be upwardly mobile. Exacerbating the challenges faced by many North Shore children and families is the lack of reliable public transportation in the district.”
With the onset of COVID-19 these inequities have been intensified, creating new barriers to access for children and families within the community. In a time when internet connectivity is more important than ever to be able to engage with education, essential services, and loved ones, approximately 21% of all households and 16.5% of children are without internet access (this includes dial-up, broadband, and cellular data plans). This leaves the North Shore ranking 5th in the City’s 59 community districts in terms of the percentage of children impacted by the digital divide (impacting over 6,000 children).
This translates to one in every six children within North Shore communities with no way to access remote education programming. The stability and support provided by these programs is essential even under normal circumstances, but the immense strain that COVID-19 has placed on the North Shore community over the last six months is creating a far more dire situation. “Their worlds have been turned upside down… and I’m very concerned about the developmental consequences of all this,” shares Dolores Reig, co-chair of the SI Alliance’s Early Learning Environments Working Group.
“This is not a device issue, this is an internet connection issue,” underscores one teacher from an elementary school located between the Mariners Harbor and Port Richmond neighborhoods on the North Shore. Despite being able to secure and distribute sufficient devices for their students at the school (nearly 90% of which are children of color), the inability to connect leaves many unable to participate in their virtual school program.
In light of this critical challenge, the SI Alliance is seeking to mobilize three key strategies to confront the disproportionately high incidence of children lacking access to internet on the North Shore.
- Raising Awareness: Due to the fact that the families impacted by this challenge have limited ability to advocate for change, the importance of finding ways to share this story is essential. Families with this issue, particularly during this time, are finding themselves with limited platforms to elevate their concerns and share their challenges. The SI Alliance’s Knowledge Sharing Working Group has been reviewing the data, identifying opportunities to address the challenge through the work of the SI Alliance, and sharing what they are learning with SI Alliance partners.
- Mobilizing Resources: By cultivating a relationship with Verizon Foundation, the SI Alliance has been invited to develop a proposal for $10,000 in funding that can be utilized to help address the digital divide on the North Shore. To date, the Working Group Co-Chairs have convened to outline how best to utilize this funding to enhance access to broadband within the community.
- Advocating for Change: The SI Alliance Policy and Advocacy working group is aiming to approach local elected officials on the North Shore to highlight the severity of the digital divide and its consequences for the district. It is hoped that these community leaders can help to secure more public wifi hubs through initiatives like LinkNYC.
For more information about the collective impact work of the Staten Island Alliance, visit www.statenislandalliance.com.
Jared Carroll is the Institute’s Project Director of the Early Childhood Collective Impact project to support the Staten Island Alliance for North Shore Children and Families.