1 | Background
When the pandemic hit, Clark County School District (CCSD), the fourth largest district in the country, had to shift approximately 320,000 students to remote learning. An initial needs assessment by CCSD found that 70,000 respondents did not have a device, 18,000 did not have Internet access, and 120,000 did not respond at all. The survey results demonstrated the urgency of eliminating broadband accessibility as a barrier to remote learning. CCSD partnered with Communities in Schools Nevada (CIS) to form an initiative with the goal of ensuring that every student had access to an Internet connection and learning device at home. Through key partnerships, coordinated outreach, and an extensive family support process, CCSD has been able to address the digital challenges faced by students at the beginning of the pandemic.
2 | Initiative Partners
Internet Service Providers
Critical to the initiative was forming partnerships with organizations and businesses that could actually provide Internet. CCSD and CIS executed an agreement with Cox Communications to provide Internet access to low-income families, sponsored by the initiative at no cost to the families through June 2021. This program was called Connect2Compete. A key component of this partnership would be the formation of a family support center.
Additionally, the state of Nevada became T-Mobile’s first Project 10Million partner. Hotspots were given to CCSD families who did not live in Cox service territory, were experiencing homelessness, or had more than four students in a household (and therefore required additional bandwidth for remote learning).
Nevada COVID-19 Task Force
CCSD and CIS’s initiative benefited greatly from the support of Nevada Governor Sisolak’s COVID-19 Task Force— a group of business leaders and community members with significant influence among public and private stakeholders across the state. The Task Force identified student connectivity as a priority for their work and created and funded the Connecting Kids Nevada Initiative. The Task Force leveraged the influence and networks of its members to bring resources and expertise to bear.
CIS, CCSD, and Community Based Organizations
The CIS/ CCSD initiative, with the support of Nevada’s COVID-19 Task Force and in collaboration with community-based organizations, formed a coordinated marketing and sophisticated outreach campaign to ensure that all families were aware of and knew how to access the broadband resources procured by the district through the Cox Communications and T-Mobile partnerships.
CIS also worked closely with CCSD to get necessary approvals, ensure compliance, and take on the lion’s share of implementation. School districts are consistently resource-constrained, so the significant execution capacity provided by CIS was critical to success.
3 | Outreach Strategy
Building awareness to drive families to the Family Support Center
A cornerstone of the CIS/ CCSD initiative was the virtual Family Support Center, a call center set up in coordination with Cox Communications and managed by CIS, where trained call agents connected with families to sign them up for subsidized Internet service. The first phase of the CIS/ CCSD initiative focused on building awareness to drive families to the Family Support Center. They leveraged the expertise of R&R Partners (part of the Task Force) to design a far-reaching PR campaign and advertised the initiative through media channels such as radio and Telemundo.
CIS, acting as the fiscal agent for the contract with Cox Communications, managed the virtual Family Support Center. They created materials for and trained and managed call center agents. They set up a robocalling system to reach out to families on a daily basis and only removed a number from the list after it had called back into the Family Support Center.
Creating a strong awareness ground game was also a crucial component of the outreach strategy. The initiative was coordinated with canvassing efforts for political campaigns and the 2020 Census to include Kids Connected materials in their outreach. In addition, CIS created marketing materials (with the approval of CCSD) and coordinated outreach campaigns across schools, media outlets, and community-based organizations. With CIS’s coordination, community-based organizations used their networks to communicate about available resources, distribute information through door-to-door outreach, and canvass highly frequented locations such as food distribution centers. They were also able to provide additional Spanish-speaking call center agents.
Targeted outbound outreach to contact all unresponsive families
CCSD integrated outreach tracking with their Student Information System and provided daily data updates to track progress. This seamless and centralized integration combined with the call center software analytics was important for understanding progress.
When inbound requests to the Family Support Center leveled off, outreach efforts were able to quickly shift to outbound calling. With the robust data tracking process and the help of school principals who provided lists of unconnected students, the initiative moved from general outreach to more targeted outreach. This triage approach allowed for more efficient use of calling resources.
Escalated outreach tactics to get to every student
When calling options had been exhausted, schools and community-based organizations started going door-to-door to talk to families that were unresponsive after several call attempts. When there were only a few hundred students left to reach, the initiative escalated the list to each school, giving them a deadline to contact every student on their list. The coordinated, intentional, and data-driven outreach efforts significantly narrowed down this list.
4 | Family Support Center
Implementing technology tools
The Family Support Center was managed by CIS and ran from August 2020 through December 2020. They fielded more than 45,000 calls and helped connect nearly 18,000 CCSD families to the Internet at home. TechImpact implemented the virtual call center technology for the support center, a non-profit that provides technology consulting and support to other non-profit and community organizations. The solution cost $200,000 and was funded by the Task Force. The setup took just two weeks.
At first, Cox did not want to allow Family Support Center agents to sign-up families directly to the Connect2Compete program on their behalf. This would have significantly reduced the impact that the calling program could have. Fortunately, CIS successfully negotiated for a more direct support approach by recording all of the calls and providing Cox with the recordings. Allowing the calling agents to directly sign families up for Cox’s service (rather than simply making families aware of the opportunity) minimized family interaction with the ISP, thereby removing significant sign-up barriers common with low-cost Internet programs, such as lack of trust and long wait times.
Building a successful calling team
150 calling agents staffed the Family Support Center. The agents were primarily district or school employees (many from departments such as transportation where operations had paused during the pandemic-induced shutdown). CIS and community partnership volunteers also helped staff the calling shifts. Training and preparation was a critical first step to the call center’s success. All agents attended a two-hour training over two days and received background checks. In addition, CIS provided essential guiding materials for the agents, including a thirteen-page script to support several scenarios encountered on calls.
Calls were made six days a week from 7am to 7pm. Each call agent shift was two hours, with a thirty-minute pre-and post-shift debrief. The pre-and post-shift meetings were critical for sharing learning across the callers, improving the process, and creating a sense of camaraderie while maintaining urgency. On average, calls lasted fifteen to twenty minutes. In addition, agents approached each call with a concierge mentality – while their goal was to get each family access to home broadband, they addressed needs outside of connectivity, referring families to social workers, etc. This empowered callers to address additional challenges that may have prevented a family from signing up for service.
After being background checked, calling agents captured all activity and call results in Infinite Campus (the district’s Student Information System). This allowed the school district to produce dashboards and daily progress reports, which kept the program and outreach strategy dynamic and flexible. For example, after about one month of receiving inbound calls, the data showed that the volume of calls was decreasing. Agents shifted to making outbound calls, starting with high priority students, including those experiencing homelessness and “missing” students (i.e., those that schools found were not logging on to attend classes).
Ensuring student privacy related to income status was a challenge. On the one hand, agents needed to prove that all signed-up families qualified for the program, but on the other, agents could not see income data per FERPA guidelines. The initiative created a system to overcome this challenge. 320 of the CCSD’s 360 schools are designated as Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) schools, meaning that 100% of students in those schools were eligible for the Connect2Compete program; to verify CEP status, call agents uploaded an “X” document that indicated to Cox the student’s status. For students attending non-CEP schools, agents were authorized to collect and upload documents that verified qualification for the program.
The initiative set a goal of ensuring that every student had access to a broadband connection, which drove innovation and perseverance among all key players from the Task Force to the calling agents to school leaders. This ambitious goal required close collaboration amongst partners to build a far-reaching yet targeted outreach and marketing strategy. Data coordination was a key component of this collaboration. Additionally, CIS’s negotiation with Cox Communications that authorized call agents to sign-up families for Internet service directly while on the phone removed one of the most significant barriers faced by similar programs. Empowering call agents to walk families through the entire sign-up process was critical to reaching the initiative’s outcomes-oriented goal of connecting homes.