OUSD, Oakland announce $12.5 million campaign to make computers, internet available to all students

OUSD, Oakland announce $12.5 million campaign to make computers, internet available to all students

OAKLAND — The Oakland Unified School District and the city of Oakland announced a $12.5 million campaign Wednesday that aims to “close the digital divide” and get a computer — and internet access — in the hands of every Oakland public and charter school student.

“This is about equity in education. Every student deserves the ability to study and learn at home, but here in the 21st century, that’s just not fully possible if you cannot access the internet,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, in a statement. “That’s why we are starting this critical effort to get technology and wi-fi into every student’s home, and to continue the effort every year into the future.

“The internet should be a public utility like water, power and even the freeway system, for all of us to use,” Johnson-Trammell continued. “Until we have universal broadband in this country, we need to do all we can to make the internet available to our students.”

According to the school district, about half of its 50,000 public school students do not own a computer, lack internet access or are under-connected, which hampers their ability to get assignments, complete homework and conduct research which in turn can lead to missed lessons and failing grades. It also can prevent students from applying for scholarships as well as filling out college applications.

Johnson-Trammell said that $2 million has been raised to date in the first phase of the campaign and said the district has distributed 18,000 Chromebooks to date to students in need. But this move wasn’t enough to ensure that students have technology at home — the district estimates that 5,000 students are still in need of internet access.

In addition, 400 hotspots are now available throughout the district; another 3,900 hotspots are in the works.

“Working together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to close the digital divide for good in Oakland,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf in a statement. “It’s not just about access to the internet, it’s also about giving families the tools that lead to information that improves their lives. I’m grateful to our community partners who have come together in this crisis to help Oakland find the silver lining and close one of our starkest disparities.”

The current coronavirus pandemic and the closures of schools throughout the nation — and the shelter-in-place order — have only heightened the digital divide. “I’d like to remind us all that, intuitively, we are in a health pandemic that is causing an economic crisis that is now causing a bigger learning crisis,” Johnson-Trammell said.

Jessica Ramos, an 11th-grader at Skyline High School and a student leader, said her family cannot afford internet access, which has prevented her from completing her homework, lowered her grades and caused her to miss deadlines for scholarships since the shelter-in-place order began. Ramos said she has since cleared up the issue with the scholarships, but said other students weren’t as fortunate.

She said she surveyed other students, particularly in East Oakland and in West Oakland, to see how they were affected by not having a computer or lacking internet access.

“The impact on our academics and our future is big,” Ramos said. “With the technology, the opportunities are endless.”

The Oakland Public Education Fund has donated $400,000 to the campaign. Other major donors include Salesforce, which has given $200,000; the Golden State Warriors, $125,000; and Amazon, $100,000.

Other donors include the Koshland Family Foundation, Oakland COVID-19 Relief Fund, The Barrios Trust, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel Foundation, Comcast, Family and Beyond, Kapor Center, Verizon, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Akonadi Foundation and BlackRock.

The district has set an initial goal of $2.5 million to ensure that all students have computers for the summer and the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Tech Exchange is working with Oakland Unified to supply the students with computers.

David Silver, director of education for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, said “many more partners” are needed for the campaign and said the city is talking with working with Tipping Point, a nonprofit fighting poverty in the Bay Area, in helping to enlist others to reach the $10 million goal.

“I know we can get this done,” Johnson-Trammell said. “We must get this done.”

For more information, go to www.oaklandedfund.org/digitaldivide.

Published at Thu, 14 May 2020 19:16:39 +0000