CNX grant to New Kensington-Arnold and Kiski Area school districts pays for needed virtual technology and equipment

CNX Resources’ grants totaling $12,200 will help two local school districts, providing one with equipment to tap free high-speed internet for students in the New Kensington-Arnold School District, where 150 homes either don’t have internet access or lack reliable service.

The CNX grants, $6,500 to New Kensington-Arnold and $5,700 to Kiski area, are part of a group of grants in the region to help school districts where students or teachers lack the technology and equipment for virtual learning during the pandemic.

CNX Resources of Canonsburg works with community foundations to pick which school districts are in the greatest need and are within areas where CNX owns well sites for natural gas extraction from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

“CNX has kept tabs on the local schools as they’ve pivoted to virtual classrooms, and we’ve heard that many don’t have all the technology needed to keep everyone on par,” said Brian Aiello, CNX vice president of external relations.

The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, which is partnering with CNX on the grants, asked the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit to identify the greatest needs in public school districts, said Phil Koch, vice president of policy and community impact for the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County.

The New Kensington-Arnold School District was found to have greatest need for the technology and equipment for remote learning among area school districts, Koch said.

“In more affluent districts, the kids are given laptops and Chromebooks, but that is not case everywhere,” he said.

The New Kensington-Arnold School District conducted a survey and identified about 150 households in the New Kensington-Arnold School District that either didn’t have internet or reliable service to attend classes virtually, Koch said.

The $6,500 grant will pay for equipment for those 150 households to tap free high-speed internet service for households with students. The free service is not yet up and is a collaborative project of Meta Mesh Wireless Communities, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and the Keystone Initiative for Network-based Research. The effort, called Every1online, aims to provide high-speed internet for school-age children in New Kensington, Coraopolis and Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood.

However, the unique project providing the internet service is not yet available, although it’s expected to be ready within the month, said Jon Banko, New Kensington-Arnold’s acting superintendent.

“We’re struggling now,” Banko said. “This project is not completely implemented, yet our classes are remote,” he said.

Teachers are reaching out to students and families in need. Students are using smartphones to access wireless hotspots and using friends’ internet devices, Banko said. “It’s not the best option, but its working,” he said.

Kiski Area School District is receiving a $5,700 grant for new laptops and upgrades for existing ones for teachers.

“While students have laptops provided by the school district, the teachers who had to broadcast virtual classes were lacking in the equipment,” Koch said.

Kiski Area School District Superintendent Tim Scott did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

CNX officials believe students during the pandemic are in great need.

“In general, our view is that students are not getting the same level of attention as businesses and organizations that might be facing layoffs or closures,” Aiello said. “We wanted to help bring some attention to their needs, especially students at risk of falling behind.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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