Connectivity Concern: Housing Authority students getting Internet access

From left, Jasmine Rojo and sons Jaeven, 5, and Hyzeah, 10, will soon have Internet access at their home in LeMoyne Gardens in Harlingen. (Travis M. Whitehead/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — There’s a lot more she’d like to do with that $97.

Jasmine Rojo, a resident at LeMoyne Gardens Affordable Housing Community, pays that much just to have Internet access for her three children.

That’s a high price in any case, but when the pandemic resulted in her being furloughed, it became even tougher. Now the Harlingen Housing Authority is making arrangements with Spectrum to bring Internet access to Rojo and her neighbors, as well as those in Los Vecinos, Bonita Park and Sunset Terrace.

“We are in the process of obtaining a proposal from Spectrum right now,” said Hilda Benavides, executive director of the Harlingen Housing Authority.

Benavides said the proposal could come any day, good news to the school age children in public housing as they prepare for remote learning at the Harlingen school district. When school begins Sept. 8, the first four weeks will be 100 percent remote learning. This is in response to the huge spike in coronavirus cases in Cameron County and throughout the Valley.

The virtual learning will require all students to have Internet access at home and the digital devices to log on. That’s a tall order in a school district in which 80.2 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Therefore, the district has begun making detailed preparations to accommodate each student.

“We’re going to do device distribution the week of August 24,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development for the Harlingen district.

“We’ll be issuing devices to our students, but the parents will have to go through an orientation,” Kortan said. “If we’re really going to deliver a high quality education, we need to make sure that every student is accounted for. And so as we make our way through these next few weeks, I think that’s going to be really, really critical.”

Some residents of LeMoyne, like Claudia Leal, have a hot spot connection with T-mobile. It’s a $30 a month arrangement, but residents pay only half. The HHA pays the rest. Still, Leal received the news favorably.

“It’s great for all the little kids and all that,” said Leal, who has three children in the district.

Her daughter, Mariana Reyes, 16, said she sometimes had to connect online with her phone. Digital devices and a full Internet connection, complete with modems and routers, will alleviate that problem.

But still …

“I don’t really learn like that,” she said, a common sentiment among many students.

Nevertheless she and her two siblings have managed to keep up with their work.

“It’s a struggle, but I make them do it,” said her mother matter of factly.

Fellow LeMoyne student Rubi Gamez, 16, also has the $15 a month connection.

Rubi Gamez, 16, looks forward to having Internet access at her home in Harlingen. (Travis M. Whitehead/Valley Morning Star)

“It’s difficult logging in at times, but for the most part it’s pretty good,” said Rubi, a junior at Early College High School.

She looks forward to the Internet arrangement with Spectrum.

“I think it’s really nice, it’s a nice gesture,” she said.

While $15 a month may not seem inexpensive, these days every penny counts.

“As you know times right now are really hard,” said Benavides. “Even if you were to put something out there 20, 25 dollars, some people have no source of income coming in.”

Benavides said HHA has been waiting on the proposal from Spectrum for about three weeks and hopes to get started soon on the connection. She’s already planning to pay for the service through some CARES Act funding, and she’s seeking other sources.

“We are looking at that closely because it serves our families from Harlingen, it serves the families from the school district,” Benavides said. “Once I get the proposal I was going to reach out to the city and to the school district and possibly Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. I’d like to see if they would partner up with us and help us get the Internet to our students that are in public housing.”

twhitehead@valleystar.com