Since digital learning will be the reality of students, parents and teachers in Bartow County for another four weeks, Comcast has made it easier for families who can’t afford the internet to get plugged into their students’ online assignments.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the internet provider began offering Internet Essentials, a program that brings affordably priced high-speed internet to homes that don’t have it due to the cost.

“Many low-income families cannot afford internet service for a variety of reasons,” Cartersville City Schools spokeswoman Cheree Dye said. “Many times, there is a credit check, a costly installation fee or a contract, and some of these factors make it difficult from some families.”

The program is “very helpful” for Cartersville students because “without Wi-Fi, it is impossible to complete digital learning assignments,” Dye said.

“All the schools are giving out physical work packets for students who can’t get access to the internet,” she said. “However, this program is helping our students learn online. It is encouraging to see a company make internet service more accessible, and it is very beneficial for our students to be able to participate in online learning during the school closure.”

In fact, there are “several benefits” for students who complete their assignments digitally, according to Dye.

“Some programs that our students use provide them with instant feedback,” she said. “For example, if a student takes an online quiz or participates in an online math game, they receive immediate responses to their work. Additionally, many of our teachers are holding online class meetings. The online interaction students have with their teachers and classmates is highly valuable and exciting for many students. These online meetings address an important social-emotional need for our students to connect with others. Learning online also gives teachers a wider variety of resources and creative ways to introduce and review content.”

Those who qualify for Internet Essentials can get 25 megabits per second of home Wi-Fi for $9.95 a month plus tax with no contract, credit check or installation fee.

The program also includes no activation or equipment rental fees; access to free internet training online, in print and in person; a wireless gateway that delivers in-home Wi-Fi at no additional cost; and access to 40 one-hour sessions of Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspots every 30 days.

Families may qualify for the program if they are eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income and others; live in an area where Comcast internet service is available; are not an existing Xfinity internet customer and have not subscribed to Comcast internet within the last 90 days; and have no outstanding debt to Comcast that is less than 1 year old.

Households with outstanding debt that’s more than 1 year old still might qualify and should check with Comcast about eligibility.

Applications can be accessed and submitted from mobile devices at apply.internetessentials.com.

Those who have been approved will be notified by text message, email or regular mail, and their home internet service should begin in five to seven business days.

Those who apply by May 13 and are approved will automatically receive two months of service free. After the promotion, regular rates apply.

Approved families have the option to buy a laptop or desktop computer at the discounted price of $149.99 plus tax and can place an order online or by calling 1-888-234-4272.

Tamara Barnum is one Cartersville resident who has taken advantage of the Comcast program.

A grandmother who is raising four grandchildren, ages 9, 8, 6 and 5, in the Cartersville system, Barnum began her service with the internet provider the first of April.

“I think that the Comcast offer is a great and helpful thing they are doing to help low-income families,” she said. “I like the service. It’s great for the kids to do school. It helps them have a sense of normal life, and the connection to their teachers is good for them.”

Barnum, 45, said her granddaughter thinks doing her assignments digitally is “good, but she wants to go back to school.”

Before getting internet service, the kids had to do paper-and-pencil assignments.

“We went to the school to pick up the work that was in bins outside the school,” Barnum said. “To turn it in, we would take a photo of the work and text or email it to the teacher.”

While switching to digital learning might be better for her grandkids, it hasn’t necessarily made home-schooling easier for Barnum, who works full time as an assembly machine operator at voestalpine.

“I’m not a computer person,” she said. “I’m learning like them.”

The school system has several ways of promoting Comcast’s deal among its families, according to Dye.

“We have shared the information through the Cartersville City Schools’ website, social media accounts, and our two school social workers, Paula Womack and Maria Davis, have personally shared the information with the families they assist,” she said.