An unprecedented lawsuit filed by students of color on November 30 exposes once again California’s failure to provide for its Black and Latinx students in a digital divide propagated by COVID-19 era online learning. This lawsuit is the first of its kind in the US, as it sues a state for failure to meet the educational needs of students during the pandemic. The demographic of the students are from age K-12, all situated in public schools in Oakland and Los Angeles, with most being Black or Latinx. "These conditions would be unacceptable in wealthier, whiter communities and do not meet the minimum standards set by the California legislature for the 2020-2021 school year," the suit writes, "which the state has done nothing to enforce." The lawsuit names defendants to be the state, Superintendent Tony Thurmond, California Department of Education, and the Board of Education. Plaintiffs include the students involved, as well as Oakland REACH- an organization currently providing online learning to about 350 students since the start of the school year. These groups cite their ability to “provide ‘high-quality remote learning’ for underserved students, but these successes cost money, which they argue the state of California should pay for.” While the suit does demand access to devices, adequate remote learning, the fulfillment of minimum instruction time, and support for students, it also provides solutions that incorporate community organizations that have already been striving to bridge the digital divide for low income students.
Responses from defendants thus far have been noncommittal; a spokesperson for the governor stated that “Throughout the pandemic this administration has taken important actions to protect student learning while also taking necessary steps to protect public health. We will defend our position in court.” Another spokesperson for the Department of Education wrote that because they had not yet reviewed the lawsuit in full, they had no comment.
Ultimately, regardless of how the lawsuit plays out in court, a joint effort is required to support low-income, Black, and Latinx students left behind by inadequate access to technology and a subsequent failing at school and teaching levels to effectively reach students academically and emotionally.
Photo by Healthline
It has been nine months since US schools have closed down in March. During the 2019-2020 school year, schools did not resume in-person instruction and continued to navigate through remote learning. However, after observation and learning what works best, administrators have formulated more structured and advanced plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Many schools are trying their best to create plans that focus on providing and utilizing the best resources for students to be able to continue distance learning, while also receiving a quality education. Several schools have been moving forward as far as integrating back to in-person instruction. But with the rise of COVID-19 cases and the lack of resources some schools provide to their students, the remainder of the school year remains uncertain and will be planned out cautiously.
Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced this Sunday that he plans on reopening public elementary schools. However, he plans to keep middle schools and high schools closed. As of now, students will be returning to campus on December 7, abandoning the 3 percent test positivity threshold that was implemented before this new system. The positivity rate has reached 3.9% as of Sunday, yet he says he wants “this to be the plan going forward” as they work hard to bring them back safely. Both Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and de Blasio have faced criticism from parents who are worried about their children. But, as de Blasio mentions, “we know what works from actual experience”, and New York City is making their best efforts to bring back their students as safe as possible.
In the Bay Area, the transition back to in-person instruction has been slower in order to ensure the safest way for children to attend school. Although many schools in the Bay Area are not returning back to campus, some are practicing in-person instruction and implementing precautions and regulations. This includes wearing masks, social distancing, setting up hand washing stations, installing good ventilation, and creating pod groups to limit the exposure to others. Even some are holding conditioning for athletics after school a few times a week. Although some schools in the Bay Area are reopening, mainly private schools, most schools are not. In San Francisco specifically, “The district’s answer is that it is not ready to reopen.”
In Baltimore, Maryland, Ms. Hellman, a 26 year old kindergarten teacher, talks about her experience returning to in-person instruction. With “More than 70,000 schoolchildren” who “left Baltimore classrooms in March”, this reopening leaves both families and staff unsure about what is to come. Ms. Hellman explains that her students for the most part are fairly good at remembering to keep their mask on as to stay away from the “bad germ” - as one student calls it. Assessment rooms are cleaned every day on the hour, every hour. She mentions that “Her only concern was that her remote learners were missing the banter and nonverbal cues her students were getting in the classroom.” But, after the first day of returning to campus with only 6 students, the next day there were an extra 19 students who were previously learning virtually.
The spike in the number of COVID-19 cases due to holiday gatherings creates a blocking figure for educators and families, influencing their plans to return. With the coming few weeks, the plans will become a little clearer, but will still remain very uncertain as we dive into an unknown future. As schools are returning, they are implementing rules like wearing a mask, doing frequent and rigorous COVID testing, installing good ventilation systems, maintaining 6 feet apart, washing hands and sanitizing often, cleaning areas daily, staying in pods, and attending in-person instruction only a few times a week. The main drives to return to campus are the social interaction and the more accessibility and availability of resources, both for receiving help on classwork/homework and for students who don’t have access to online learning devices, that are just not obtainable at home.
If the spike in COVID cases results in schools being forced to shut down again or schools remaining to be closed, this could leave a devastating impact on students who do not have access to online learning devices. As Maria Su, executive director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, says, “We have children who are missing 90 assignments”, which unquestionably demonstrates the need to provide an equitable education to all students, first starting off with giving them online learning devices to continue school virtually.
This year to come, we will be venturing into something very new, just as we have been in the past few months. But from experience, learning how to take advantage of resources, and finding solutions to issues blocking students and staff from receiving and providing quality education, we can take our first few steps in moving forward.
With the election only about a week away, Americans are submitting early ballots at a record-breaking level; demonstrating voters are looking forward to making their vote count in unprecedented times. So far, Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s respective policies have been laid out, debated, and defended extensively over these past few months. One contentious topic, especially as millions of students from K-12 are learning online, is how each candidate and their following four year term will confront the issue of the digital divide.
Under the Trump administration, in January the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a $20 billion implementation to build broadband in rural communities. However, the Trump Administration has also cut Lifeline, which supports families who make less than 135% of the poverty line with a $9.25 monthly subsidy towards their cell or internet bill (and an additional $25 discount for those who qualify and live on tribal land). Lifeline is the only federal program specifically designed to connect low-income people. Under Trump, the program’s budget has been cut in half and applications have gone down by 40% as a result of the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s actions that complicate applicants’ and providers’ participation in the program.
On the other hand, Biden’s plan includes adding another $20 billion to increasing rural broadband and passing the Digital Equity Act. This act would essentially provide $1.25 billion over five years to create two digital equity federal grant programs that focus on underserved populations, on a federal and state level.
Trump and Biden’s differences in policy will define the digital divide’s future, determining the lives of countless students as concerns about the pandemic, vaccines, and online vs in-person learning fluctuate.
Photo by USA.gov
The 2020 United States Presidential election is on November 3! All over the media, there is a continuous buzz over this election. But why is it such a big deal and what exactly does it mean for our country, our communities, and our personal lives? We encourage you to read this article to learn more about the election and do further research on your own if you are still uncertain about any of the topics regarding the 2020 US presidential election. We recommend checking out the official US election website.
So what exactly is a presidential election and what does my vote do? The U.S presidential election is where “citizens of the United States who are registered to vote in one of the fifty U.S. states or in Washington, D.C., cast ballots not directly for those offices, but instead for members of the Electoral College.” This means that citizens are not directly voting for the president, but a group of people who are appointed by each state to then elect the president and vice president. This process is called the Electoral College. There are 538 electors in total, each representing a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, plus 3 electors from the District of Columbia. The population of each state influences the number of electoral votes they get. The candidate with a higher percentage of votes in a specific state gets all of the electoral votes for that state(this all-or-nothing process does not apply to two of the fifty states), and the other candidate gets 0 electoral votes from that state, even if it was a close call. Sometimes, a candidate can win the popular vote, but not gain at least 270 electoral votes. The candidate that gains at least 270 electoral votes wins the presidency.
Now we know how votes are counted, but how do we choose who to vote for? This year, our two candidates are Donald Trump and Joe Biden. “The US political system is dominated by just two parties,” the Republicans, the conservative political party, and the Democrats, the liberal political party. The basic difference between the two parties is that Republicans believe in a “smaller”, weaker federal government where the federal government plays less of a role in our lives, while Democrats believe in a stronger, “bigger” federal government that plays a bigger role in the lives of its people. We highly recommend you do more research on what these two parties, and more specifically these two candidates, stand for if you do not already have a solid understanding.
Where can I vote? First, make sure that you are registered to vote. Visit this link to register to vote if you haven’t already. Due to COVID-19, there may not be as many polling places near you and they won’t be the same as they have been in the previous years(for safety precautions). As a result, many people are voting by mail-in absentee ballots. Note that in California, all citizens registered to vote will be mailed a ballot(no later than 29 days prior to November 3). Click this link to learn more about how you can vote this year.
Why should I vote? Voting is one of the most important rights granted to U.S citizens because it allows them to play a role in the type of leaders, representatives, and government they want to see in their country. Voting allows you to choose leaders who stand for things that are important to you and make the changes you want to see in your personal life, community, and country. Every single vote counts! In 2000, “Bush won Florida by 0.009 percent of the votes cast in the state, or 537 votes.” This example shows how close elections can get and how just a couple of votes can change the president that serves for the next four years and the course of history.
At Bridging Tech, educational equity is one of our core values. We strongly believe that every child should have access to a quality education that allows them to achieve their academic dreams. In order to fight the educational inequities prevalent in our society, we have to make changes to the education system at a nationwide level. This means that by evaluating our candidates’ values, policies, plans, and what they stand for, we can put our votes towards making the changes we want to see in our country.
The more people that vote, the more change that is created. #VotingMatters
Visit https://www.usa.gov/voting for all the information on the presidential election.
Photo from CNBC.com
The current president and Republican presidential nominee for the 2020 election, Donald Trump, has tested positive for COVID-19. His wife, Melania Trump, and advisor, Hope Hicks, have all tested positive as well. Based off of those who have tested positive within the White house and other political officials who have tested positive as well, the outbreak seems like it could have occurred when Donald Trump nominated Judge Barrett for the Supreme Court. As of right now, he is in the Walter Reed hospital. Although he has been given a new drug that supposedly could minimize symptoms of COVID-19, this has thrown a wrench into the workings of this year’s election. With only so many days left until the election, Donald Trump’s campaign events have currently been postponed or moved online. Another interesting way Donald Trump’s positive COVID-19 test could affect the election is that he has made many remarks about the COVID-19 around how it is not as bad as people think (which most definitely isn’t the case), which could possibly lead to people voting for Trump to rethink their choice. He has also hosted events going against COVID-19 guidelines, refused to wear a mask, and tweeted blatantly incorrect facts about COVID-19. Other government officials have also been tested, or are currently being tested.
Thankfully, the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and his vice president Kamala Harris have both tested negative. Joe Biden has even sent well wishes to Donald Trump from him and his wife, hoping for his swift recovery. They are continuing to campaign, as the election date of November 3rd draws closer.
COVID-19 has affected many lives around the world, and this just goes to show us that anyone can be impacted by it. In the Bay Area, COVID-19 has been especially harsh on the families we are working with. Since it’s no longer safe for children to go to school, learning has transitioned to online, preventing the children of homeless families from being able to attend school. We are working to provide devices to these families in order to ensure their children have access to education, and don’t fall behind. If you have any available devices, please consider donating them to us. If you would like to help but don’t have any devices, we hope that you make a monetary donation to our GoFundMe.
Amidst a global pandemic and mail in voting, this upcoming election has already proven to be unprecedented. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s recent announcement that his running mate will be Sen. Kamala Harris is undoubtedly a historical one, Harris being the first ever South Asian American woman to ever be a vice presidential nominee.
Coming from humble backgrounds, Kamala Harris is the daughter of both Indian and Jamaican immigrants who came to the United States in search of higher education. Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to the United States to attend UC Berkeley to fulfill her dreams of pursuing a scientific major. There, Gopalan met Donald Harris, an enthusiastic economics major, at an Afro American association meeting. Their connection was instant, leading them to ultimately marry and have kids. Both Gopalan and Mr. Harris’s stories resonate with many, who also identify with having immigrant parents who came to the United States in pursuit of education and opportunity. Harris’s supporters view her political career as a testament to the American Dream, proving that anyone from any background can thrive and achieve their dreams in America.
With her diverse origins, Harris’s nomination has been a groundbreaking milestone, inspiring an emotional response from activists and people of color worldwide. Many commend her nomination, stressing the importance of having a nominee that “looked like them.” Brittany Oliver, a women’s rights activist and communications director, echoed the same sentiment, saying “She’s paved the way for women like me.” Harris’s nomination has also resonated with the African American community, particularly during the ongoing movement for racial justice, coined “Black Lives Matter.” Several Democratic African Americans celebrated Harris’s nomination, claiming that her rise to political power was a reflection of the overwhelming support they’ve given to the Democratic Party. While the outcome of our upcoming election is still unclear, it is definite that Sen. Kamala Harris’s nomination has been a historic achievement for many people of color, providing the representation they have so earnestly fought for.
A triple digit heat wave, wildfires, and choking smoke: these are all things that California has experienced within the past week. Residents woke up on Wednesday to an apocalyptic landscape as smoke from the wildfires blotted out the sun and tinted the skies an eerie shade of orange. Currently, the state is battling more than two dozen wildfires in a season that has already scorched more than 2.5 million acres of land—a record figure—and the fire season runs for another four months.
Winds have blown smoke and ash into the Bay Area, lowering air quality to very unhealthy levels. The health effects of wildfire smoke aren’t fully understood, and the particles differ from other air pollution in that it contains a mix of gases and particles from burning vegetation, buildings, and other materials that can cause health problems. Studies have shown that when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospital visits rises and many additional patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks, and strokes. Wildfire smoke is especially dangerous during the pandemic, as smoke makes lungs more susceptible to diseases like COVID-19.
The risks are greater for people of color, who tend to live in areas already exposed to high levels of particulate pollution. According to a 2017 study, older Black people are three times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory conditions because of smoke. Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor at Harvard and an author of the study, says, “Underrepresented minorities are experiencing a much higher health burden from pollution and wildfire smoke, and, now, COVID.”
So how can you protect yourself from the smoke? The CDC recommends limiting exposure to smoke by staying indoors with windows and doors closed and running air-conditioners in recirculation mode so that outside air isn’t drawn into your home. When outside, wearing N95 respirators are recommended, although these are in short supply. An alternative: wearing a mask made from different layers of fabrics, in particular tightly woven cotton and silk together, which can provide good filtration if the mask is closely fitted to your face. Ultimately, there’s only so much an individual can do to protect themselves. And unfortunately, as warming temperatures due to climate change have led to longer and more devastating fire seasons in California, these smoky conditions may become the new normal.
As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in California, one of the largest culprits of this recent incline in pandemic cases is mass partying. Particularly in Southern California, recent social gatherings held by popular influencers and media personalities have made headlines, with unmasked partying and rampant drug and alcohol use. While these raucous parties are characteristic of Southern California culture, these irresponsible social gatherings have caused a sharp increase in disease transmission. Most of these parties are attended by local teenagers and young adults who are at low-risk of fatality from the virus. However, as these groups continue to disregard social distancing standards and face little repercussions, they become “super spreaders” of the virus, fueling California’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
Local Los Angeles authorities have begun to crack down on massive social gatherings, starting with the media personalities at the center of these bashes. Popular TikTok Stars, Bryce Hall and Blake Gray were recently charged for throwing a large, non-socially distant party in their Hollywood Hills mansion. In emerging videos of this wild gathering, unmasked attendees are seen closely dancing amongst one another, while sharing cups and beverages. Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, released a public statement addressing the blatant disregard of California’s social distancing orders. While he did not mention the TikTok stars by name, Garcetti claimed “he would disconnect the utilities of anyone who hosted large gatherings.”
While other countries are slowly beginning to emerge from the devastating effects of the pandemic, the US is still experiencing inclining pandemic cases with fatalities increasing on a daily basis. Recent disregard of quarantine and social distancing protocols pose the question as to whether the US will eliminate the virus once and for all or simply adjust to the new norm.
Over the past six months, COVID-19 has upended all of our lives, but low-income individuals and families are the ones who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. One area where effects are being felt the most: the digital divide. According to the Pew Research Center, 53% of Americans say that the Internet has been essential during the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, many parents with lower incomes say it’s likely their child will face digital obstacles when trying to do their schoolwork at home due to lack of Internet connection or lack of access to a device. Here at Bridging Tech, our mission is to help provide access to technology by donating laptops for learning to children in homeless shelters. But what are other nonprofits across the nation doing to help?
EveryoneOn, a nonprofit dedicated to creating social and economic opportunity, is helping to bridge the digital divide by connecting low-income families to affordable internet service and computers. Since 2012, it has helped connect more than 784,000 people to the Internet and donated thousands of computers. Connect2Complete, their flagship program for K-12 students, provides affordable internet service to qualifying families, and is offered in partnership with leading cable companies including Cox Communications and Mediacom. In response to COVID-19, EveryoneOn has provided updates on their website on what Internet service providers have done to ensure that low-income families can stay connected, and offered a service to find low-cost internet service and computers in one’s area.
Another nonprofit, National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), has taken a different approach to bridging the digital divide. A unified voice for home and public broadband access, personal devices, and support programs, NDIA combines grassroots community engagement with knowledge of tech to work for digital equity. Rather than donating devices or Internet services, NDIA hopes to bridge the digital divide through legislative change. The nonprofit supports digital inclusion practitioners and advocates, advocates for local, state, and federal policies to promote digital equity, works to educate lawmakers, media, and potential partners about the need for digital equity, and conducts, supports, and promotes data-gathering and research that can inform the public of the urgency of the digital divide. During the pandemic, NDIA has facilitated virtual community meetings to share information, acted as a messenger to relay digital needs to the media, advocated fiercely for more local, state, and federal resources, and provided a list of free and low-cost internet.
Now more than ever, it is so important to donate to these causes. Students are already back in school, and some still don’t have an adequate device or connection to the Internet, and these things that are needed in order just to have an opportunity to succeed.
As of August 30, The Bridging Tech Charitable Fund has officially reached our summer fundraising goal of providing 300 laptops to Hamilton Families, a service provider to homeless families living in San Francisco and Oakland. These past two months as a high school ambassador have been filled with research, fundraising efforts, social media posts, emails, reaching out to members of my own community, and writing about my passions outside of bridging the digital divide. It is gratifying to know that everyone apart of Bridging Tech will continue to learn and grow as we expand our efforts.
Since the first four high school ambassadors, three more members have joined in the past month; together we span freshmen, junior, and senior years. Once a week, the HSAs and our two cofounders, Isabel and Margot, meet to discuss updates, task lists, and our social media roles for the following week. Ambassadors are in charge of Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and writing and uploading website blogs. Within each social media, there is one designated channel leader that you can reach out to for help. Content on each account can vary: Instagram is all graphics, often a mix of current events and updates about our nonprofit, while LinkedIn is text based and may showcase articles relating to our cause. Social media is integral to our fundraising efforts, as in an age of a technological based society and COVID-19 social distancing, we source most, if not all, of our donations at a distance.
Because we are funded solely by the public and by some company donations, fundraisers within our respective communities are critical to fulfilling shelters’ needs. Ambassadors have used campaigns like delivery services, reading challenges, venmo requests, and marathon mile counters to spread awareness of the urgency of contributions. The relentless fund-sourcing of our cofounders and associates is the only reason we have been able to give every family in Hamilton Families their own laptop; next, our goal is to provide every individual child with their own device, as the challenges of sharing a device with your family also interferes with one’s education. All of us here at Bridging Tech thank you for your efforts to break cycles of poverty and uplift disadvantaged citizens.
Photo by Willie B. Thomas
As cases of Covid-19 continue to climb, it is inevitable that distance learning will be the new norm for students and teachers. “With the closure of schools in March 2020, more than nine million students did not have the high-speed home internet required for online learning.” The expanding digital divide is prompting many people to find new ways and ideas for students to get the help they need in order to succeed in school and their future work.
While giving students tech devices helps to bridge the digital divide, this also includes giving kids access to multiple ways in which they can learn and practice computational thinking. Students will need to be trained in necessary computational thinking in order to address future tasks with their technological skills. Recently, Apple “announced updates to its Everyone Can Code curriculum, which introduces students to the world of coding through interactive activities.” This program will be able to guide students all the way from writing their first lines of Swift codes to building their first apps. They teach kids to code that will enhance their math, creativity, communication, and imagination. This can build onto their technological skills and will help them be able to connect with others digitally.
Not only has Apple updated Everyone can Code curriculum, but they have recently launched the website, Learning from Home, “where educators and parents can access on-demand videos and virtual conferences on remote learning plus schedule free one-on-one virtual coaching sessions, all hosted by educators at Apple.” This can be very beneficial for both students and teachers to gain the technological skills to succeed and to better their learning experience.
With the next generation having to face the possibility of self-paced online learning, they will need the coding skills to meet new connections and computational skills. Through coding and learning computational thinking skills, this will help kids “develop digital literacies, including connections between issues and finding solutions” for the future benefit of our world.
As the United States grapples with the emergency of its own digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not alone in this struggle. In fact, countries all over the world have been dealing with this issue, and on a much larger scale for a long time. This difference in access to technology and the Internet, also known as the international digital divide, describes global disparities, primarily between developed and developing countries, in regards to access to computing and information resources such as the Internet and the opportunities derived from such access.
The concept of the digital divide was originally popularized due to the disparity in Internet access between rural and urban areas of the United States. However, the international digital divide is a special case of the digital divide, in that the focus is set on the fact that the Internet has developed unevenly throughout the world. The Internet is expanding very quickly, and not all countries—especially developing countries—are able to keep up with the speed of expansion. For example, data taken from the World Bank in 2017 shows the sheer difference in Internet access through the comparison of two countries. In Norway, a developed country, 96% of the population used the Internet. But in Somalia, a developing country, that percentage drops to only 2%.
The international digital divide has caused devastating effects, one of the worst being that it has caused some countries to fall behind in technology, education, labor, democracy, and tourism. In addition, computers and the Internet provide users with improved education, which can help them earn better jobs and higher wages. Unfortunately, this means that people living in nations with limited access therefore become disadvantaged.
On the global scale, the digital divide has turned from an important issue to a dire emergency. According to a 2017 UN report, it was revealed that more than 52% of people on the planet don't have access to the Internet or to a device. Here at Bridging Tech, our mission is to donate devices to those in need, whether they live right here in the Bay Area, or outside our international borders. In a world that has become increasingly reliant on technology, it is extremely important that we work to close the international digital divide. Without help, this gap in access to technology is at risk to become a yawning chasm.
After experiencing a record-breaking heat wave this past week, wildfires have now begun to plague California, spreading in the Napa and Sonoma Counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. Massive plumes of smoke have settled above mountaintops, fouling the air quality and endangering public health. As California continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and unforeseen weather conditions, firefighters bear the brunt of the state’s unpredictable climate.
In a recent statement, California Governor Gavin Newsom and local fire officials stated that “the state’s firefighting resources are overextended.” Firefighters have been taking on 72-hour shifts, with little time for breaks or any frontline support. With the state’s resources dwindling lower and lower, California has officially appealed for aid not only from neighboring states but from the entire country. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, front lines and firetrucks can no longer carry more than one to two people, leaving these workers with little support when facing massive fires. The urgency of firefighting often leaves sanitation and health protocols as an afterthought, resulting in many workers to ignore COVID-19 precautions in the face of danger.
Wildfires have already torn through around 350,000 acres of land, forcing nearby residents to evacuate and burning around two-dozen homes. In efforts to support the influx of evacuees whose homes have been compromised, hotels and public housing are beginning to reopen. In addition to displacing people from their homes, the wildfires have also compromised air quality. People in close vicinity to the fires have even found their cars and driveways covered in ash and dust. Most areas in Northern California have passed 150 on the air quality index, making the air dangerously unhealthy to breathe. In context of the current pandemic, breathing in polluted air can compromise ones health and make them more susceptible to contract COVID-19. Respiratory symptoms from the fires and coronavirus can often overlap, so doctors recommend people experiencing these symptoms to isolate themselves as much as possible. Currently, the mass displacement and chaos of the recent fires has left Californians in a state of panic. As time progresses, we must take appropriate precautions to protect one another and commend those on the front lines during these tumultuous times.
Photo: Gavin Newsom and Tony Thurmond (LA Times)
The beginning of school has arrived for many kids in California, and many others are getting ready for it. This year, about 97% of children are going to be starting the year online due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions.
If schools reopen, they must have a waiver which involves a lengthy application process. However, since school has already started for some kids, that makes getting a waiver harder. Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that any schools within the counties on a COVID-19 watchlist are not allowed to open up. Unfortunately in recent times it wasn’t updated and had additional data system errors, so 300,000 additional cases were not added.
Tony Thurmond, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, made the prediction that 700,000 kids don’t have access to devices. He also estimated that 300,000 don’t have access to the internet. This makes going to school impossible. On the bright side, 73,000 devices have been given out to those children. $5.3 billion in COVID-19 relief funds are also being used to help schools, such as purchasing technology for the students.
Even though some kids now have access to devices, many are still struggling and will likely fall behind during this upcoming school year. The effort to bridge the digital divide is stronger than ever, and especially pressing with the arrival of the school year. Check out the source linked below for more information.
Mail-in voting has become the center of controversy among Democrats and Republicans, with concerns being raised over the funding of the United States Postal Service and potential voter fraud. To understand the current dissension, we must first go back to May, when Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally and Republican donor, took over as Postmaster General and has been implementing cost-cutting measures in response to the USPS’ financial problems (which resulted in a $9 billion loss last year). These measures, including “slowed delivery, removed high-speed letter sorters from commission and a stark warning to election officials that mail-in ballots will no longer automatically be moved as priority mail,” have prompted Democrat criticism, who fear changes that could disrupt the November election. In a letter sent to DeJoy, Democrats assert that the “sweeping operational changes” he is making “could degrade delivery standards, slow the mail, jeopardize crucial deliveries such as prescription medicines and essential goods, and potentially impair the rights of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming November elections.” True to their concerns, on August 14, the USPS “warned almost all of the 50 states and Washington, DC, that voters could be at risk of not getting their ballots back to election offices in time to be counted because election rules are not compatible with the time needed for delivery and return of absentee ballots through the mail.” In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now calling for voting on a bill to block the USPS from making any changes that could result in delayed service. Additionally, an oversight hearing for DeJoy scheduled for September has been moved up to next week.
Sticking to his attack on voter ballots, Trump has stated within the past week that mail-in voting results in voter fraud, despite no evidence that this is a widespread problem. He has also tweeted that voting by mail “doesn’t work out well for Republicans,” which many believe is why he opposes the $25 billion request for funding the USPS through a COVID-19 stimulus bill. As the situation develops, it is imperative we maintain the right to a safe and fair election, regardless of what changes must be taken to ensure that.
Photo by Loan-Anh Pham/ San Jose Spotlight
Earlier this week, Santa Clara County’s Continuum of Care put together a plan to end homelessness in the county. This plan has been in the making since 2015, but because of the global pandemic, implementing this plan is more urgent than ever. COVID-19 has left many economically uncertain, jobless, and without child care, causing more residents to become homeless. This public health crisis has called for a shelter in place order and more extreme preventative health measures. However, these orders are harder to meet for the homeless community.
The leading factor causing homelessness is the “extreme lack of housing options that are affordable for low-income residents.” According to a Public Policy Institute of California report, families making the lowest income levels in the Bay Area have 12 times less the income of the families at the highest income level. In fact, the income of “low wage” families has dropped by 12% in Santa Clara County in the last 5 years. Yet, that’s only one of the problems of affordable housing facing that group. In 2018, there were only 34 houses available for every 100 low-income workers in San Jose, meaning that the lack of affordable housing and low income makes it common for low wage families to be on the brink of homelessness.
Although the ages of homeless residents can be very diverse, the racial group isn’t. Hispanics, Native Americans, and African Americans together make up 30% of the general population in Santa Clara County. However, they also make up 68% of the homeless population in the county. Clearly, “racial inequities are a factor in driving homelessness” and people of color are more likely to experience it. The County hopes to address the racial bias in the system and make supportive housing programs more accessible and available to people of color.
In these past few months, these numbers have been rapidly increasing and it is expected that they will continue to rise. Over 80% of homeless residents are unsheltered and are sleeping in unstable places. And for every individual or family that is housed in the county, two or three more end up homeless. By 2025, there will be 20,000 more people who will become homeless if this trend continues. It is crucial that the County acts upon this now so that we don’t have to live this future.
County officials and leaders plan to help resolve this issue by housing 20,000 people in the next five years, preventing more people from ending up on the streets, and improving the quality of life in shelters and encampments. The plan includes expanding their homeless prevention program so that they can serve 2,500 people per year and increasing the construction of homes for the homeless. As for shelters, they will be doubling the number of beds and allowing residents to “ bring pets and store personal items at shelters, live in sanctioned homeless camps with access to hygiene and support services, and receive better access to housing services and support.” In addition, they will also be providing more resources and outreach to those on the street and those in danger of it.
Funding for this plan will come from Measure A( $950 million affordable housing bond passed in 2016), the city of San Jose, state & federal government, Santa Clara County, and private donors.
Ending homelessness is a big step for the county and the Bay Area. During this time, it is of the utmost importance that we are protecting those that are most vulnerable. This plan will be a great example and foundation for plans to come in ending homelessness in other regions in the Bay Area. Now, we can better imagine a Bay Area with brighter futures and lives.
Our new reality that has brought virtual school and online learning is unexpected to say the least. But you and may others are probably thinking, how long will this last? For the foreseeable future, many schools have decided to start the 2020-2021 school year online until further notice. This decision is all in part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between students and their families. Although temporary for now, some educators believe this is only the beginning for the future of learning. University College of Education professor William Watson argues that this temporary switch will possibly turn into a new reality. He argues that online learning provides personalized learning options for all students, allowing them to be most successful adding that "A personalized approach to learning supports student autonomy and the direction of each student’s learning process”. More importantly he suggests that the idea of more personalized learning systems will happen, online or not. He puts it as, “Ultimately, the move to personalized systems of education is a question of when, not if ".
With this in mind, the first thing that may come to mind is the millions of youth who might not have access to adequate technology to participate in online learning. This barrier brings a disadvantage for some youth to access the education that they deserve. Our mission here at Bridging Tech is to bridge the digital divide gap for children in homeless shelters. We would love your help in reaching our goal so students in need can start their school year prepared and confident. Learn how you can help by going to "About" and then "Get Involved".
Source: Herald Journal
Photo by LA Times
The digital divide is more prominent now more than ever. With school starting remotely in a few weeks, this escalates a greater need for students to have tech devices in which they can participate in online classes and be able to learn. Alone, the Covid-19 pandemic has “forced an estimated 97% of California’s 6.2 million students to resume their school year online.” We’ve seen how individuals and non-profit organizations are helping through monetary and tech device donations to help students in need. But how are big corporate companies implementing any efforts to help bridge the digital divide?
Recently, a press release from the California Department of Education announced that “Apple and T-Mobile are teaming up to provide California students with up to one million iPads.” With many schools experiencing shortages of tech devices to pull off distance learning, Apple and T-Mobile are fulfilling orders directly from districts. By the end of 2020, they expect to fulfill school district demand. Through Apple’s Professional Learning Team, they are lending a helping hand to California educators (e.g. teachers) by providing weekly virtual training sessions to accommodate any difficulties in transitioning smoothly to teach remotely. By offering one-to-one virtual coaching sessions and many creative techniques that can help with online learning, Apple’s Professional Learning Team can foster student’s virtual learning to be more effective. In more than 300 school districts nationwide, T-Mobile has connected hundreds of thousands of kids for online learning. Mike Katz, the EVP of T-Mobile for Business, states, “The pandemic has exposed just how widespread and detrimental the digital divide is for millions of children in this country … we’re committed to doing something about it, and we’re proud to partner with Apple to help the State of California connect up to a million students when they need it most.”
Big corporate companies using their power to help students receive the tech devices for virtual learning is a major contribution to bridging the digital divide we have today. Even using their voice to speak about the inequity of technology for students gives greater awareness of what is going in our world today. With having companies like Apple and T-Mobile to donate iPads to students, we can hope that more will follow suit and bring a bigger change for those in need.
Photo taken by Jessica Christian/The Chronicle
A new program called Homekey, based on Governor Newsom’s project Roomkey which rents places for homeless people, will be giving money to unused motels and hotels in order to provide housing for the homeless. Many motel and hotel owners aren’t doing well due to the pandemic and the drop in tourism, so they are considering selling their properties instead of waiting to reopen. Since people are considering selling, “San Francisco homeless policy leaders have said since early summer they are hoping to buy two or more hotels for conversion, and some leading players in the city’s Homekey process say several properties are in play.”
The goal at Homekey is to find buildings that are not too expensive to redo with a fair price. However, since rents have declined but real estate prices haven’t, this makes it harder to find good places to renovate. Additionally, there is a follow-up cost to supervise the building, making it more expensive. Nevertheless, Mayor London Breed and many others involved with Homekey and providing homes for the homeless have a positive outlook on the progress that can be made, particularly within San Francisco.
In total, Homekey has $600 million in grant funds for taking “local public entities, including cities, counties, or other local public entities, including housing authorities or federally recognized tribal governments within California to purchase and rehabilitate housing, including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, and other buildings and convert them into interim or permanent, long-term housing.”
Finding homes for the homeless is especially pressing during COVID-19 due to the possible exposure of homeless people, and $550 million of the $600 million in grant funds come from Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds. This issue has been emphasized and brought to light due to the pandemic, but hopefully it is also one that people will continue to focus on even after the pandemic. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to read this article or visit the website for Homekey.
As time progresses, life amidst the pandemic has become more and more normalized. Schools have switched to an online format, and most outings are strictly for essential items. However, as COVID-19 continues to shape our lives, one of the largest ramifications of this virus, especially in the Bay Area, will be its effect on college admissions.
COVID-19 first came into effect around March, disrupting standardized testing dates and the spring grading system. College applications have long been centered around standardized testing, usually weighting admissions off of SAT or ACT marks and AP test scores. As a result of the pandemic, the College Board has cancelled a lot of these testing dates, failing to offer SAT or ACT testing since the virus hit. Universities all around the US have recognized this issue, and many have waived SAT and ACT requirements. The University of California system, better known as the UC's, have even gone as far as to say that they’re phasing out the requirement for standardized testing altogether. As for AP testing, the College Board released a shortened version of the test for each subject that students took online. The usual AP test was a 2-3 hour multiple choice and free response test, while the new version was an hour long test tailored differently for each subject. Many students reported the site crashing during their test or malfunctions that prohibited them from turning in their work. University admissions have always been in tandem with College Board scores and standardized testing. However, as the virus continues to take its course, colleges are slowly placing less importance on test scores and focusing more on extracurricular work and essays.
In addition to this, high schools are considering changing their grading systems. Some are considering a pass/fail policy for all grades while others are using grade flooring, a system where student grades cannot drop from what they already are and can only increase.
As times continue to change, we can only guess at what the coming college admissions season will be like. Whether colleges will bar international students, or ignore grades altogether is still up for question. The pandemic has challenged colleges to rethink their admissions system and forced them to adopt policies that will make the application process more doable. Hopefully these changes will shepherd our education system into a more equitable one where learning is accessible to all.
In the last few weeks, many parents have raised their concerns about school this upcoming fall. If it happens in person, it might not feel safe. If it happens remotely, their children’s learning might be inadequate. In order to find a better solution, parents around the country have started organizing pandemic pods, or “home schooling pods, for the fall, in which groups of three to 10 students learn together under the tutelage of the children’s parents or a hired teacher.”
Pandemic pods could provide families with a school option that is safe, yet fun for their children. In some situations, it may even provide child care while they are working at home. However, pods are expensive, hard to organize, and self-selecting, making them most popular among families of privilege, which worsens educational inequality. For parents who can organize pods and who are able to afford them, pods are an easy choice.
One example of these pandemic pods is occurring here in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, pods organized by Red Bridge School cost $2500 per child per month for a pod size of five. While financial aid is available, this isn’t applicable for all pandemic pods that are beginning to take shape. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that many lower-income families--whose children could fall behind by more than a year due to low-quality to no remote instruction and lack of access to the internet or a digital device—just aren’t able to afford to enter their children into pods.
What most families do is start from a place of self-interest. They ask themselves how to do what’s best for their family, and how to do what’s best for their children. And families who have greater sets of resources tend to use those resources to hoard educational opportunities. Unless something isn’t done to create an equitable solution for children’s learning that is accessible for all, the most well-off families will self-segregate according to privilege, allowing their children to benefit from their wealthy upbringing and leaving children of lower-income families behind.
The 2020 election will shape America’s policy for the next four years, solidifying the ideals and beliefs we as a nation hold to be true. In such a tumultuous time, candidates must prove to their people that they are best equipped to run a country that is divided on many pivotal topics. The Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, and the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, have been campaigning for months amidst ignited race relations and a global pandemic that the US is undoubtedly struggling in. With these issues on the table, who is best suited to lead Americans in coming years?
One important aspect being discussed in terms of Biden’s candidacy is who he will choose to be a vice president. This process and selection will “indirectly influence voter choice by changing perceptions of the presidential candidate — which, in turn, changes votes” (Devine and Kopko). In Biden’s case this might mean a young VP to counter perceptions of his age, a progressive one like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, or a Black one that speaks to his value of diversity. Nichols of Axios writes that “The way Biden is searching for a vice president suggests a careful and methodical approach, the opposite of Trump's style. But it also reveals a strong fear of the consequences of making the wrong choice.” Biden has stated that all of his potential running mates are women and at least four are Black. Some of those Black women are believed to be “Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Val Demings, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Rep. Karen Bass, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and former national security adviser Susan Rice” (McCammond). Biden’s final decision was slated to be announced the first week of August, but sources say this is unlikely- if not the first week, Biden has confirmed that his choice will be made at least before the Democratic convention. Regardless of which woman he chooses, the results will be historic. Americans will ultimately decide in the voting polls if this selection will result in Biden’s win over Trump.
Homelessness has long afflicted the American population, specifically in San Francisco, California - hotspot to some of the most widespread poverty in America. However, some groups have been immensely affected by unemployment and severe poverty during this pandemic. The LGBTQ community has long faced discrimination and increased hardships but the tangible effects of this bias has only been proven in recent studies. Estimates from the National HRC show that “LGBTQ youth comprise up to 40 percent of the total unaccompanied homeless youth population.” Unfortunately, they are not the only minority group facing increased homelessness rates - “other young adult populations experiencing disproportionate rates of homelessness include Black and African American youth, Hispanic non-white youth, unmarried parenting youth, youth with less than a high school diploma or GED certificate and youth reporting annual household income of less than $24,000.”
When minority groups are the foremost victims of poverty and homelessness, it creates a cycle of poverty and hardship for people of those ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses. Homelessness can have a lifelong effect on these groups’ mental and physical health. Those experiencing severe poverty are exposed to higher rates of sexual abuse, drug dependency, and social discrimination. When faced with situations as dire as homelessness, it is hard for this population to rise out of their circumstances especially with societal stigmas about hiring low-income, minority youth.
Fortunately, several projects and initiatives have been striving to remedy the scourge of homelessness facing LGBTQ minorities. On par with these motives, the Trevor Project works to de-stigmatize the LGBTQ community by contacting policymakers and funding programs that encourage inclusiveness. They ensure that foster care systems have a strong, non-discriminatory code of ethics that accommodates youth despite sexual orientation or racial identity. In addition to this, the Covenant House, one of the largest providers of care for youth experiencing homelessness in America, has a mission statement ensuring that all their houses are safe and welcoming for minority youth experiencing homelessness. Kevin Ryan, CEO of Covenant House International, stated “This is not complicated: we are called to love unconditionally and with absolute respect all young people facing homelessness.” Although it is a devastating truth, LGBTQ and minority youth disproportionately experience homelessness, and we should all work to support and de-stigmatize these groups to stop the cyclical abuse they face.
Photo taken by Melia Robinson/Business Insider.
“Nowhere in San Francisco is wealth disparity more prevalent than the Tenderloin.” With these words, Robinson of Business Insider reminds us of the acute class divide in the Bay Area- while some were fortunate enough to transition easily from in-person to technology based jobs during COVID-19 lockdowns, others did not have that opportunity. In fact, unemployment in California rose from rates of 3.9 in January to 16.4 in April and May. June has seen a slight dip with a rate of 14.9. While rates may steadily slow in coming months, marginalized populations in San Francisco will not see the same increase of job opportunities. In order to bridge this gap, the nonprofit Code Tenderloin hopes to help provide long term employment to the formerly incarcerated, homeless, and similarly disenfranchised communities.
Founded in 2015, the organization has a myriad of helpful services, all focused on training for job readiness. One facet is a curriculum that “covers technical skills, soft skills, interview prep, resume creation, 1-on-1 mentorship and off-sites led by some of the best tech companies in the Bay Area.” Another is the “enrollment in Public Defender's Clean Slate Program that reduces and expunges criminal records.” Code Tenderloin’s partnerships with local businesses, major tech companies, and others connects participants with long-term job opportunities. The nonprofit affirms that in order to work, a collective effort is required across several organizations; ones that provide housing, clothing, etc. Code Tenderloin is partnered with St. Anthony’s foundation, which contributes free clothing and a tech lab, Compass Family Services, which has family shelter and childcare services, Tech Credit Union, with financial literature and free checking, and Glide, which provides case management and family services.
As of 2018, “About half of the 300 people that Code Tenderloin has accepted into the program reported finding employment after graduation. Of those newly employed, 35% remained in the same job 12 months after graduating from Code Tenderloin.” In order to change the narrative, a coalition of ventures is necessary. Companies need to take a chance on disenfranchised applicants, and we as a society must recognize that change and rehabilitation are possible, despite past mistakes.
It’s a no-brainer that the pandemic has turned regular life upside down for everyone. Many are working from home, students are attending school online, restaurants are open only for takeout, and the streets are eerily quiet as everyone has been sheltering in place. But recently I had to ask myself, “How has the pandemic affected me?” Sure, all my schoolwork has been on the computer, I can’t see my friends, and I only leave my house to go to the store or for the occasional walk, but fundamentally, nothing has really changed for me. My family has been lucky enough to be a part of the small percentage of Americans who can safely work from home while still earning the same income. I still have a roof over my head, food on my plate at every meal, and a warm bed to sleep in at night. Unfortunately, many Americans have not had the same pandemic experience as me.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of late March, 29 percent of white Americans said someone in their household had lost their job or work-related income because of the pandemic. However, 36 percent of black Americans and 49 percent of Hispanic Americans said the same. In addition, results taken from a survey conducted by the University of Chicago showed that low-income households were the most concerned about jobs, income stability, and health care coverage. One key finding from the household impact survey states that "More than half of low-income respondents reported being worried about losing their job, compared to less than 20% of higher-income Americans.” These alarming statistics have made one thing clear: the pandemic is disproportionately affecting racial minorities and low-income individuals and families.
In the upcoming months, and maybe even years, there will really be two pandemics in America. The first will seem frightening to its victims, but thanks to their existing advantages and privileges, they will likely emerge from it physically, mentally, and financially stable. But the other pandemic will devastate those who have endured it, leaving lasting scars and changing life as they know it. Which of these two pandemics any given American will experience will be determined by a mix of race and class—influenced strongly by inequality—and random chance.
As the pandemic has furthered the already existing disparities in America, it’s important to take the time to reflect on one’s own pandemic experience. If you find that your experience is likely to be similar to the first pandemic listed, like me, maybe the more important question to ask yourself is not how the pandemic affected you, but how you can use your privileges to help those who are in need.