Spanning the Digital Divide-Horizons For Homeless Children

Spanning the Digital Divide

For many low-income families struggling to find permanent housing, toys, books and art supplies often don’t make the list of essential needs. Horizons is a place where children experiencing homelessness are free to play and engage in enriching activities, a critical foundation for academic success later in life. Closing schools and early education centers across the state because of the COVID-19 crisis has left many Horizons’ families to quarantine in shelter, often without access to books and toys for their children. In coordination with the shelters where families are living, Horizons quickly adapted and prioritized ways to ensure children kept learning and playing.

“The reality was that many children were on their mom’s phones as their parents tried to find ways to keep them occupied with very few resources,” said Lynne Gaines, Director of the Greater Boston Playspace.

Horizons’ team began researching ways to support families safely and ways to get children access to books and educational games, in part by soliciting the input of Horizons’ family shelter system. All worked together to ensure enrichment could continue, albeit in a much different capacity.

Horizons is thankful for the generosity of the Selander Foundation through which we were able to purchase hundreds of tablets, and for the 100 additional tablets provided by Boston Public Schools. The grant expedited the process by eliminating the logistical task of sourcing the tablets. This allowed Horizons staff to distribute the tablets just one day after receiving them, getting them in little hands as quickly as possible.

“While we don’t typically look to electronic solutions to be a part of our early education curriculum, these times are unprecedented,” said Horizons’ CEO, Kate Barrand. “Giving tablets to families helps fill the gap while we can’t physically be with their children. The device can be a lifeline to materials but also to our teachers who are interacting via Zoom and other online tools to make sure that children are maintaining contact with the teachers on whom they’ve come to rely.”

The tablets are pre-loaded with a year’s subscription to a gallery of educational content that can be downloaded by a parent based on the child’s age. From there, parents can put controls on, including monitoring screen time and content, ensuring children are engaging with content that has educational value.

The tablets are given to families, not loaned, with no expectation that they’ll be returned after the COVID-19 crisis has subsided.

“These times have been a call for Horizons to be innovative in the way we support families,” said Kate Barrand. “As our team navigates this uncharted territory, our families remain our top priority. We will continue to work on their behalf and maintain the services they have come to rely on. The tablet initiative helps maintain that commitment to them.”

The tablets are one more way Horizons is helping families overcome the challenges presented by the shutdown.

If you would like to help make Horizons maintain our commitment to families, visit our wishlist today or make a gift directly to Horizons COVID response efforts.

This piece was written by Rachel San Giacomo, a regular contributor to Horizons’ blog.