Keeping education open when the schools are closed

The school year we didn't anticipate

Rhode Island students, families and teachers were rocked when schools closed suddenly in March with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. But school leaders were determined to find a way to carry on teaching . And we were all introduced to the idea of “distance learning”.

Statewide, local districts were able to quickly provide the technology and systems needed to enable the majority of students to access distance learning opportunities. However, early on it became apparent that many students, especially in urban areas, did not have the same kind of access. It was a stark reminder of the equity divide that had suddenly became much wider.

Student at laptop

This is exactly the sort of issue the Foundation-led Long Term Planning Committee seeks to take on in service of its vision for a “world-class public education system (that) prepares all students to succeed in life and contribute productively to the community.” With escalating need and a surge of students at risk of being left behind, the Foundation and others looked to take action.

Talks with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) about the needs it saw in districts throughout the state resulted in the Foundation issuing a $100,000 challenge grant, urging community members to match the dollars earmarked for computers and Wi-Fi hotspots.

“This is a moment for all Rhode Islanders to come together to support our students and our teachers. Our commitment is tailored to focus on the technologies that make equitable learning opportunities possible during this public health crisis. We challenge those who are able to step up and match our commitment, so that every family has the resources and tools to make distance learning possible. We are truly all in this together,” stated Foundation President & CEO Neil D. Steinberg when issuing the challenge.

And step up you did!

The challenge was met, and then some. Just two weeks after it was issued, more than $400,000 had been contributed. Donations, from nearly 70 donors, ranged from $25 to six-figure contributions from CVS Health and Brown University.

“The generosity of Rhode Islanders continues to amaze me. I am incredibly thankful for our community stepping up to help our students learn during this extraordinary time. Rhode Island is a national model for distance learning, and it is because Rhode Islanders have risen to the challenge to do whatever it takes to keep our students safe and learning.”

- Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green

The initiative funded the purchase of approximately 400 hotspots and 2,000 computers. The $150,000 donation from CVS Health allowed the Woonsocket Education Department to purchase 750 Chromebooks for students in grades three through five, while the $100,000 donation from Brown University’s Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence was earmarked to support internet access for Providence students through the Cox Connect 2 Compete Program and the purchase of hotspots.

The effort continues, with a goal of every student having his or her own device, so siblings do not need to share during instruction times.

Contributions in any amount to the Foundation’s Fund for Rhode Island Public Education will be accepted as long as the need continues. Gifts may be made at