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Education

New Tech Fund for Detroit Students helps close city’s digital divide before school year

Detroit – Today, a collective of community leaders across the private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors have pooled resources to tackle Detroit’s digital divide and ensure students can continue to learn.

With financial backing from the Deloitte Foundation, DTE Energy Foundation, Detroit Children’s Fund, Nancy and Arn Tellem and the Detroit Pistons, Harlem Children’s Zone, Ideal Group, Quicken Loans Community Fund, The Skillman Foundation, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, $1.8-million is being invested for remote learning devices and high-speed internet access to support over 38,000 Detroit students who attend high-need public charter and private high schools in the city.

Dubbed the Tech Fund for Detroit Students, this initiative aims to provide devices suitable for remote learning and access to hot spots and wi-fi for education during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. This fund will target high school students, as well as recent graduates, who will receive devices to support their continued learning.

“We’re thrilled that so many Detroit institutions have come together to ensure more students can engage in remote learning and progress in their education. High schoolers and recent graduates are the focus of this fund because they will have the least amount of time to catch up if they fall behind in their studies,” said Punita Dani Thurman, vice president of program and strategy for The Skillman Foundation. “Digital literacy and access isn’t only imperative now, during this pandemic. It is imperative for young people’s ongoing education, connection to community, and access to the job market.”

Connectivity Initiatives for Detroit Kids

The Tech Fund is the latest initiative aiming to bridge Detroit’s digital divide. In April, Connected Futures launched—an initiative engineered by DTE Energy, the Quicken Loans Community Fund, Detroit Public Schools Community District, the City of Detroit, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Skillman Foundation to provide tablets and high-speed internet access to DPSCD’s 51,000 students. Connected Futures began distributing devices to students and families earlier this summer.

“The Tech Fund addresses an urgent need affecting the most vulnerable families in Detroit,” said Tonya Adair, chief impact officer for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Education, employment, and stability are all tied to having access to technology. It will take the collective power of public and private collaborators, like The Skillman Foundation and Detroit Children’s Fund, to address the digital divide for students and families. We are especially grateful for the support of all organizations involved in making this fund a reality.”

“While the Connected Futures initiative continues to make great strides toward leveling the playing field for Detroit students and their families, we still have much work left to do in our mission to bridge the digital divide,” said Jerry Norcia, DTE Energy president and CEO and trustee for The Skillman Foundation. “Joining the Tech Fund for Detroit Students initiative is a continuation of DTE’s commitment to transform Detroit from the least-connected city in the nation to the most connected, and to drive equity, growth and prosperity in the Motor City for generations to come.”

Connect 313, a task force dedicated to making Detroit a model city for digital inclusion, aims to increase internet access throughout the city through hotspot lending at libraries, affordable home internet options, and mapping free wi-fi locations across the city. The Rocket Mortgage Classic and its title sponsor Rocket Mortgage established a fund in conjunction with Connect 313. Combined, this will provide every Detroit resident access to the internet, technology, and digital literacy programming within a ten minute walk of their home.

“The Tech Fund for Detroit Students is yet another—to ensure Detroit youth have the tools they need and deserve,” said Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Quicken Loans Community Fund. “As we continue driving toward universal access to technology, internet, and digital literacy, we can collectively bridge the digital divide in Detroit.”

Short- and Long-Term Solutions

While some public charter and private schools have been able to pivot to remote learning since March, others have relied on different methods to keep in touch with students and families and ensure student success during school closures. Some teachers and principals delivered books and learning materials to homes so students could keep up with their learning without access to a computer or internet at home.

This initiative goes beyond school: the Tech Fund also aims to increase connectivity for families for their economic stability. Career and continued-learning opportunities become more easily accessible with reliable internet, and parents and guardians seeking those opportunities can have new doors opened for them by having a device and internet in their homes.

“Technology and digital skills are essential for our students if we want to prepare them to compete on not only a national but also a global level,” said Ralph Bland, CEO of New Paradigm for Education, a leading charter school network in Detroit. “The pandemic has exacerbated the digital chasm that exists between our students here in Detroit and their global peers. I am thrilled that the inequities our students have experienced for decades are being prioritized by our amazing business community and philanthropic leaders.”

The Process for Schools

The application for Tech Fund support will be sent to charter and private high school administrators across the city. A committee of civic and school leaders will review applications for their soundness, impact, and viability. The Fund will accept applications from individual schools as well as school networks. School networks operating both inside and outside of the city must specify how funds will be used to help Detroit students.

The Tech Fund hopes that—in conjunction with Connected Futures and Connect 313—all Detroit children will be able to continue learning from home and have access to remote opportunities now and in the future.

“COVID exposed inequities in our country—and in our schools,” said Jack Elsey, executive director for Detroit Children’s Fund. “Access to technology is critical to student achievement, more today than ever before. I am thankful for the team of funders who came together in the name of equity to help close the technology gap for Detroit students and provide the resources they need to be successful.”

To learn more about the Tech Fund for Detroit Students, visit unitedwaysem.org/tech-fund-for-detroit-students.

ABOUT THE DELOITTE FOUNDATION

The Deloitte Foundation, founded in 1928, is a not-for-profit organization that supports education in the U.S. through a variety of initiatives that help develop the next generation of diverse business leaders, and their influencers, and promote excellence in teaching, research and curriculum innovation. The Foundation sponsors an array of national programs relevant to a variety of professional services, benefiting high school students, undergraduates, graduate students and educators. Learn more about the Deloitte Foundation.

ABOUT THE DTE ENERGY FOUNDATION

The DTE Foundation is the philanthropic arm of DTE Energy, continuing the legacy of community support and involvement of its electric and natural gas utilities, which serve 2.2 million electric customers in Southeast Michigan and 1.3 million natural gas customers in Michigan. In 2019, the DTE Energy Foundation provided $16 million in grant support to nonprofits throughout the company’s service territories. As one of Michigan’s leading corporate citizens, DTE Energy is a force for growth and prosperity in communities across Michigan in a variety of ways, including philanthropy, volunteerism and economic progress. Visit EmpoweringMichigan.com/Foundation to learn more.

ABOUT DETROIT CHILDREN’S FUND

Detroit Children’s Fund is a nonprofit organization that makes high-potential investments to expand successful schools, greatly improve lower-performing schools, and discover and develop talented educators so that every child in Detroit has the opportunity to receive an excellent education.For more information, visit detroitchildrensfund.org.

ABOUT THE QUICKEN LOANS COMMUNITY FUND

The Quicken Loans Community Fund is the philanthropic arm of Rocket Mortgage, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, Bedrock and other affiliated companies who comprise the Rock Family of Companies. Its strategy aims to support thriving, resilient and inclusive communities through data-driven investments in housing, employment and public life.

Through its For-More-Than-Profit model, the Quicken Loans Community Fund recognizes that business and community are inextricably linked, and it purposefully brings together all of the assets of the Rocket Mortgage and Rock Family of Companies business – team member talent, technology, policy advocacy, and philanthropic resources – to invest in comprehensive community development in Detroit and across the country.

Since 2010, Rocket Mortgage Chairman Dan Gilbert and his affiliated companies have invested more than $200 million into addressing complex issues like tax foreclosure, chronic unemployment, and support of the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Alongside financial investments, the Quicken Loans Community Fund has organized team members to provide more than 725,000 volunteer hours nationwide, including 400,000 in Detroit.

For more information visit QuickenLoans.org.

ABOUT THE SKILLMAN FOUNDATION

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that supports quality educational and economic opportunities for Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by focusing on three systems: K-12 education, afterschool, and college and career pathways. For more information, visit skillman.org.

ABOUT UNITED WAY FOR SOUTHEASTERN MICHIGAN

United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a member of the United Way Worldwide network and an independently governed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works to help households become stable and ensure children have the support they need to thrive. For more than 100 years, United Way has been a leader in creating positive, measurable, and sustainable change in communities throughout southeast Michigan. United Way works in partnership with donors, agencies, corporate and municipal partners to help families meet their basic needs of housing, food, health care and family finances, and ensure children start school ready to learn and graduate ready for life. To give, advocate, volunteer or learn more, visit UnitedWaySEM.org.

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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