Every day in high school, as soon as the dismissal bell rang at 3 o’clock, I’d gather my belongings from my locker and head to the computer lab or the school library to do my homework.
Like 19% of school-age children in America, I didn’t have WiFi or a computer at home, and most of my assignments required at least one of the two. Whether it was working on a shared doc for a group project, emailing a teacher, or googling images to include in a PowerPoint presentation, I couldn’t do any of it from my home.
When I went to college, I wasn’t able to afford my own laptop until the first semester of my sophomore year. But I never had to think twice about how I’d be able to type essays or where I could use a computer. In fact, I actually found pleasure in getting to spend so much time in the campus library, because it was a beautiful space filled with all the resources I could ever need, even if I wasn’t there to do schoolwork. So while all my friends were watching Netflix in bed, I was watching it in the library (shoutout to Millie for letting me use her account!).
But that was 2016. Students today that don’t have either a laptop or internet access, don’t have as easy of a workaround. Public libraries and school facilities have been closed for months now, and for many, those spaces mean more than just aisles of bookshelves.
When I saw that viral photo of the two schoolgirls sitting with their laptops on the curb of the Taco Bell parking lot to use the free WiFi, my heart dropped because I had done the exact same thing. But it was one time. For only 20 minutes. At a table inside with air conditioning, to upload a single college application, not outside in the middle of August for an entire school day while wearing a face mask.
I know how frustrating it can be to do schoolwork without reliable internet, or a computer, or both. But for students now, it’s not just inconvenient, it’s practically impossible. If you are one of the 14+ million Americans living in a household without internet access who is currently going through this, my heart goes out to you. And I offer you these 5 tips that hopefully can make things easier:
Get a virtual library card from your local library.
With a library card from any library district, you have access to every e-book imaginable, and they’re all available offline, to check out for free, so if you need sources for a paper and your WiFi is spotty, you won’t be forced to rely exclusively on google. Simply search your library catalog as normal, and filter the search by “e-book” or “e-resources.” If the title you’re looking for is available, you should be able to check it out immediately and read it in the browser. You can also use the same library card number to access more resources on Hoopla and OverDrive, all for free. If you don’t have a library card yet, most library districts now allow you to register for one through their website.
Ask for hardcopies of the reading material and homework from your teacher.
It’s easy to get stressed and impatient if you are sharing the home computer with another sibling who is also doing online school, or if your internet speed takes forever to download large pdf files. If this sounds like your situation, ask your teacher if they can provide you with hardcopies for a few assignments or readings. This way, you won’t have to stress about waiting to use the computer once your sibling is finished, or about your file download being stuck at 98%. Especially when a due date or test date is approaching, it’s important to be able to access your study materials whenever you want, not just when you have access to a computer.
Use the public printer in a local hotel.
If you don’t have WiFi at home, chances are you don’t have a printer either. So if you need to print out something, but your parents don’t get home from work until late when Staples is already closed, go to a nice hotel to use their printer. Every hotel has a public computer and printer for guests who need to print out plane tickets or business documents last minute. If you are worried that it’s against the rules to use the printer if you’re not a guest, I promise they will be friendly and understanding — trust me, I’ve been there before on late nights when the library was already closed, and it was never a problem, not even once.
When you do have access to internet, download offline apps/extensions.
When you’re able to get online, make sure to download offline apps/browser extensions. Even if your internet cuts out or slows down, these offline apps will allow you to do things like access your email or view a Google Slides lesson/presentation. I recommend Google Docs Offline and Kindle Cloud Reader. Here is a list of many other useful offline apps. And here are instructions on how to set up a Chromebook laptop for offline use.
Apply to Comcast’s Internet Essentials program.
If you have a computer but no internet, or one home computer shared between two school-age children, apply to Comcast’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families with K-12 and college students. For those who qualify, Comcast’s program provides 60 days of free internet, affordable high speed internet, and low-cost computers. If you find you are ineligible for Comcast’s program, apply to Spectrum’s Internet Assist program, which also offers affordable high speed internet along with a free modem for low-income families.
If you yourself are fortunate enough to have WiFi and/or a laptop at home, check in on your friends, in case they’re silently struggling alone. If you have an old laptop, let a friend in need borrow it, or invite them over to your house to do homework together after class. I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve seen TikTok videos making jokes about pretending to glitch out on Zoom in the middle of a class presentation, blaming it on poor connection. It’s easy to forget that not having reliable WiFi at home is a real thing for a lot of people. So if you are one of those people right now, don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers and fellow students, ask for resources, extra help, and extensions if you need it, because we’re all in this together, and we’re all rooting for you. Everyone deserves equal access to education.