Gabriel Carbajal

Rancho Santa Fe Elementary School student, Gabriel Carbajal, 9, was one of several students who received a $190 laptop via Scottsdale Bible Church and the City of Phoenix’s “Bridging the Digital Divide” initiative, which aims to provide more than 5,200 laptops for City of Phoenix students who need them.

Scottsdale Bible Church and the City of Phoenix partnered for the “Bridging the Digital Divide” initiative to raise $1 million last month for more than 5,200 laptops for students in need.

As of Dec. 28, the campaign reached 80 percent of its donations from the congregation as well as local partners and businesses.

“This is the first time a local church has collaborated with the City of Phoenix and a local nonprofit to meet a real need for kids in our city and in our schools,” said Senior Pastor Jamie Rasmussen. “And we are excited to provide the laptops to students in early 2021.”

The goal is to purchase 5,265 laptops at $190 each for students in every Phoenix school that reported a need. 

Phoenix will purchase the additional 4,375 laptops needed through federal pandemic relief funding.

Scottsdale Bible Church hopes to distribute the laptops by March 1 and will reach out to businesses to help provide high-speed internet service for the recipients.

“As far as Scottsdale schools, none of the superintendents contacted answered that they had a need, so we focused on the City of Phoenix schools that submitted needs and are partnering with the City of Phoenix to meet all those needs,” said church spokeswoman Jill Hoekstra.

The church has partnered with local schools each December over the past 10 years to help meet various needs.

It partnered with local nonprofit School Connect to develop a strategy that would address the digital divide among students, which was exacerbated by the pandemic.

“This fall, we began talking about what it would be like to solve a real need in our public schools that has become more critical during COVID-19. We learned about the ‘Digital Divide’ crisis that exists between kids who have technology at home to do their schoolwork and those who don’t,” Rasmussen said.

According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau statistics by USAFacts, a nonpartisan data site, 4.4 million U.S. households with school-aged children did not have consistent access to a computer as of Sept. 28 and 3.7 million did not have regular internet access.

In Phoenix, Census figures show that nearly 10 percent of the nearly 1.7 million households did not have a computer as of July 2019 and nearly 20 percent lacked broadband internet access.

“We recognize the strain on local students and on their teachers, especially during this season of more online learning. Teachers have worked so many hours to adapt,” Rasmussen said, adding:

“They are often meeting with students in the evenings when a parent gets home from work so that the student can use their mom or dad’s cell phone. And a cell phone or tablet does not always have the needed applications for distance learning and homework submission.”  

“Students are falling further and further behind in basic studies. We believe every student deserves and has a right to an education and needs technology to stay engaged in their studies,” Rasmussen continued.

Some students have already received the School Connect laptops.

The laptops, which are delivered directly to the school districts, will be owned by the schools. 

Students and their parents will then check them out and return them at the end of the school year. 

This allows school districts to install security updates and provide tech support, church leaders said.

Phoenix resident Desiree Cano, who has seven children under the age of 18, said she struggled to find laptops for all of the kids.

“Jumping from divide to device was hard for them so they lost time at school because they couldn’t complete things they didn’t know how to complete,” Cano said. 

“When a student doesn’t have access to those laptops that are initially making their education happen, they fall behind in every category at school,” she added.

“We used to think of technology as being almost supplemental. It was an enrichment activity that you did in school. It’s gone past enrichment,” aid Corby Naylor, Scott Libby Elementary School principal.

 “Technology is literally the way that they access the right to a free and public education. It’s been a really difficult obstacle to overcome for families.”

The church interviewed families, students and teachers and found the greatest need among Phoenix schools.

“There is a long-term impact from what has taken place over the last 10 months and we take this very seriously,” Rasmussen said.