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Raleigh, N.C. – The State Library of North Carolina and the Broadband Infrastructure Office of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NC DIT) are pleased to announce the official launch of a new partner program with the Robeson County Public Library and the Public Schools of Robeson County.

The pilot program is funded by a $250,000 two-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is designed to equip local libraries to lead their communities in closing the homework gap. The homework gap occurs when students are assigned homework requiring access to the internet but do not have internet access at home. The program kicked off Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Fairgrove Middle School in Fairmont, NC.

The grant will allow the Robeson County Public Library to deliver digital literacy training to program participants, hire a Digital Inclusion Librarian to implement the project, and purchase Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to 35 K-12 households per partner county. The Wi-Fi hotspots will provide the at-home internet access students need to complete homework assignments.

Susi Hamilton, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which oversees the State Library, says, “Public libraries play an important role in bridging the digital divide and in supporting after-school and out-of-school learning. This project will develop and model practices that can strengthen public library and school library partnerships to help all students realize their potential, and these best practices will be shared to enhance library services to students facing the homework gap across the state and beyond.”

Robeson County was selected as the first partner community where programming began on Feb. 12, 2019. Three additional partner communities will join the program in Fall 2019.

Eric Boyette, Secretary of NC DIT and State Chief Information Officer said, “We’re thrilled to launch this project to start eliminating the homework gap in partnership with the State Library and Robeson County, one of the Governor’s designated Hometown Strong counties. Having recently visited and distributed computers to schoolkids in Robeson County, I was struck by the tenacity and resilience of the community and its students. A program like this, that can help prepare a 21st-century workforce, and provide much-needed internet access, is one we are thrilled to launch, perfect, and eventually scale to other rural communities throughout North Carolina.”

Hawhana Locklear, Principal of Fairgrove Middle School says the school “is elated to be chosen to participate in the Homework Gap Grant. This fantastic opportunity is going to provide much-needed access to digital resources and support that our students would otherwise not be afforded at home. Many providers do not service this area, so our students are very fortunate to now have access. We are hopeful that this opportunity to both our students and their parents will increase their digital literacy through access to online resources and materials.”

Katie Fountain, Director of the Robeson County Public Library says the Library system is “grateful and excited to have the opportunity to participate in the Homework Gap Pilot. I am looking forward to strengthening our partnership with the Public Schools of Robeson County, in hopes of expanding future collaborations that will benefit students and families. Many public libraries across the country are implementing hotspot lending. Participating in this pilot will give our public library administration a chance to experience lending this much-needed technology and evaluate ways to expand our offerings outside of the pilot. I feel honored that Robeson County was selected as the pilot location and hope that this project will make the case for more libraries and school systems to work together to close the homework gap faced by so many students, especially in rural North Carolina.”

The two-year pilot program will culminate in the fall of 2020 with the publication of a toolkit, which libraries across the country can use to learn best practices for implementing similar programs in their community.

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