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DIGITAL DIVIDE: Students with no access to WiFi struggle amidst school closures

With no other option, students bundled up together and got as close to a nearby school as possible to get access to WiFi.

PHOENIX — Schools in Arizona will now remain closed until at least April 10th. That means more students will be relying on online learning but that's not easy for several students in our state because of a digital divide.

“It’s heartbreaking," said Chad Gestson, the superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District.

Last week, on a cold morning, Gestson's staff witnessed a harsh reality.

“Three students who early in the morning when it was cold grabbed a blanket found a device went to a local school it wasn’t even there school it was just a school in their neighborhood and they bundled up underneath the blanket and leaned up against the building at a local elementary school and logged onto their WiFi so that they could do their homework," Gestson said.

With no other option, students bundled up together and got as close to a nearby school as possible to get access to WiFi. These particular students were seniors and concerned about completing credits and getting to graduation.

“We’ve always known about a tech gap, we’ve always known about an achievement gap, an opportunity gaps and all these issues are under a microscope today," Gestson said.

Now, state leaders have announced school closures will extend at least until April 10th meaning access to devices and WiFi for students is paramount. 

RELATED: All Arizona schools ordered to close through April 10

The Tempe Elementary School District offered students laptops and tablets.

Gestson said they have recently bought hot spots for every senior in his district and are now working to distribute them but he knows there are more students and more districts that need help.

“We will also need philanthropy in the business community and maybe even government when they think about coronavirus emergency packages. We would argue that legislation and state leaders even national leaders can play a role," Gestson said.

Gestson says if you are in a position to help bridge these gaps in opportunity with anything from access to WiFi to devices, contact a school district.

“I think we can turn this crisis into a great opportunity," Gestson said.

RELATED: Kids at home? Here’s a list of online learning resources for all grades