RI Foundation commits $100K to help close remote learning gap


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While students across Rhode Island have been learning remotely since school buildings shut down last month due to COVID-19, there remains a gap for some in terms of the technology they have access to, according to Gov. Gina Raimondo.

“Like everything in this crisis, the most vulnerable are having challenges,” she said during her daily briefing on Monday. “With distance learning, those are the kids and parents and households who don’t have WiFi or don’t have a computer.”

Raimondo noted that in recent weeks, several partnerships have enabled the state to make “tremendous strides” in providing more students with internet access.

“The vast majority of students, like 90 percent-plus, do have access to WiFi through the different means that we’ve made available,” she said. “But still not everyone does have access, and we need to do more.”

In an effort to further close that gap, Raimondo announced the Rhode Island Foundation has partnered with the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) and committed $100,000 to provide computers and WiFi hotspots to children still in need.

Neil Steinberg, the foundation’s president and CEO, told Eyewitness News he had previously asked R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green about distance learning and whether there was anything they could do to help.

The $100,000 commitment is a challenge grant, meaning the foundation is hoping other individuals and organizations will step up.

“Hopefully, we can at least double, if not more, the $100,000 amount and really get that gap closed now,” Steinberg said. “It’s not going to do us any good to wait till June.”

The grant is one of several ways the foundation is helping Rhode Islanders during the pandemic. In mid-March, it teamed up with the United Way of Rhode Island to launch the COVID-19 Response Fund “to support those nonprofit organizations, boots on the ground doing critical work in health and social services and to provide food and shelter,” according to Steinberg.

He also said the fund is to help with the rising demand for their services during a time when traditional sources of fundraising like charity events had to be canceled.

According to a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Foundation, $3.6 million in grants have so far been awarded to more than 75 nonprofits across the state, including food pantries and mental health and domestic violence support programs.

The grants range from $10,000 to $75,000, Steinberg said, and they’ll continue to be awarded on a rolling basis.

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The foundation also launched a $5 million fund to help Rhode Islanders cope with the stress of the COVID-19 crisis. The COVID-19 Behavioral Health Fund will award grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 which will support programs delivering behavioral health services, as well as evidence-informed programs that meet a specific local need related to the pandemic.

The deadline for the first round of applications is Friday, April 17.

Despite the great strides being made, Steinberg said donations are always needed.

“This is not going to end in the next two weeks; the critical needs out there are not going to disappear,” he said.  “The foundation has been around for 104 years, we’ve been through crises before. We will come out of this with Rhode Islanders, for Rhode Islanders, there’s another side of the mountain. But boy, it’s as critical as I’ve ever seen in my many years in Rhode Island.”

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