Community Issues

What Happened After Photo Of Girls Using WiFi Goes Viral

They didn't have internet access at home. Pictures of them on their devices in a Taco Bell parking lot inspired thousands.

Over the past week or so my social media feed has been filled with photos of my friends' children posing on their first days of school. Children of every age (including my daughter!), smiling as their parents race to capture the moment before it disappears, their hearts full of pride.

For the kids who are learning at home, desks have been constructed in bedrooms, dining rooms, hallways – wherever there's a quiet space and reliable Internet access.

But what about the children who don't have access to the internet, or don't have a safe place to study? What do those students do?

This question was brought to the forefront when a photo was posted of two young girls sitting outside of a Taco Bell in Salinas, CA, using the restaurant's free wi-fi to do their school work.

The photo is a prime example of the country's "digital divide," which is the growing gap between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who don't. Americans with lower incomes are most likely to be affected by the divide, while minority families seem to suffer the most from a lack of access to online learning devices.

"Two students sit outside a Taco Bell to use Wi-Fi so they can 'go to school' online," CA Senate representative Kevin de Léon tweeted after sharing the photo. "This is California, home to Silicon Valley...but where the digital divide is as deep as ever. Where 40% of all Latinos don't have internet access. This generation deserves better."

The digital divide is particularly high among low income families and in rural areas. Public Policy Institute of California

Shortly after the photo surfaced on social media, the Salinas City Elementary School District, where the girls are enrolled, reached out to the family and provided them with an Internet hotspot. The district has around 8,500 students and currently offers full distance learning, meaning all classes are taking place online.

The district has already delivered thousands of hotspots and Chromebooks to vulnerable families, and they're waiting for another 2,500 devices to be delivered and hotspots to be created.

Some concerned people in the community wanted to do more. After they learned the girls and their family were going to be evicted, they started a GoFundMe page that has raised over $146,000 dollars. Juana, the children's mother, is working with an accountant to manage the funds and provide transparency. The funds will go to finding Juana and her three daughters a safe place to live, buying a reliable vehicle and setting up college funds for the children.

"All children deserve a happy place to live and because of their dedication, these little girls deserve a safe space to learn," Lopez wrote on the fundraising page. "We appreciate every single one of you for helping making that happen."

While the story shines a light on a growing problem and is forcing public officials to find solutions, there are still millions of families that don't have computers or adequate Internet access in their homes.

"This image of these two little girls outside of a fast food restaurant, are the faces of the digital divide in California, but also children all across our country," Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo told CNN. "We know this problem has gone on for far too long, and frankly, it's a national embarrassment. We must do better for our kids."

How can you start something good?

You can pitch in to help Juana and her family by donation to the GoFundMe page.

You can also look for causes in your own community to support so that all children have the tools they need to learn. In the Pittsburgh area, you can donate money or equipment to Beyond the Laptops to connect families with technology resources.

Let's #StartSomethingGood together!

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