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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the tech industry astronomically grows in the Bay Area, it is no surprise that laptops and tablets have become an integral part of classroom learning. In America alone, the educational computer-and-software market has grown to reach a $21 billion evaluation, and Silicon Valley took advantage of this surge.
Tech executives saw the monetary advantages of incorporating devices in everyday learning and worked to make it a reality. After contacting school officials and decision-makers, tech entrepreneurs have created a way of schooling, with technology being vital for learning. Companies such as HP and Microsoft have made hundred-million-dollar deals with school districts in an effort to incorporate their products in everyday schooling. Laptops and tablets are used in math and reading lessons, and homework often takes the form of online quizzes or assignments.
This sudden incline in tech-based learning has opened up a world of inequity and disadvantage for children not already associated with tech. With other states and countries following California’s tech-based learning example, children without the means or knowledge to learn virtually are the most adversely affected. This new schooling system fails to acknowledge children without suitable learning devices at home, or parents without the digital literacy skill to help their children complete assignments.
Having a stable internet connection and home life have become a prerequisite for learning, and while these new policies benefit the majority, often the children who cannot adhere to new learning standards are left behind. The chances of disadvantaged students rising out of such school systems is low, and they cannot be expected to achieve their goals when placed in an environment that sets them up to fail. Providing students with the supplies and opportunities for a fair learning experience begins with bridging the digital divide. We must work to create a new age of technology and learning where the convenience and benefits of digital learning helps all, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances.
While many of us are experiencing the restrictive quarantine and social distancing measures that this pandemic has caused, the virus’s effect on the homeless population has been much more dire. Specifically in San Francisco, center to the largest homeless population in the country, COVID-19 has caused mass displacement and inconvenience for this community.
San Francisco has long been home to some of the most low-income and underprivileged groups in America. However, the recent pandemic has forced the city to address the lack of sanitation, resources, and living spaces for these groups. In the city’s efforts to adjust to recent social distancing and sanitation orders, they have begun opening hotel rooms to homeless people and implementing quarantine measures in select shelters. While these steps have been effective, it has also barred many homeless individuals from living in quarantining shelters and displaced people that aren’t “high risk.”
Roger Moussa, who was recently kicked out of the shelter he was living in, said of the situation, “I feel completely helpless. I have nowhere to go, and every other night I get robbed.” Several citizens have also voiced their concern for the homeless during this time, and how this improper treatment of homeless citizens ends up generating fear in other citizens: “We are only as safe and as protected as our most vulnerable residents.”
The recent outbreak has also affected homeless youth, who depend on schools for not only education, but also for food, hygiene, and health care. The US Interagency Council on Homelessness has made a statement offering further educational support for afflicted youth. They suggest that schools and communities coordinate an effort to provide devices to any who may not have the facilities to learn remotely. However, this response is inadequate and does not address the possibility of a lack of school resources or funding to equip children with such devices.
The Bridging Tech Charitable Fund’s mission is to provide sustainable learning devices for children in these situations. Providing them with devices may prevent cyclical poverty and the lack of education due to systemic causes that is common in these areas. It enables children to learn, regardless of their living situation or socioeconomic status, and it creates a world where education is accessible to all.
Ever since I was young, I have noticed that the Bay Area was steeped with people from various ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. I was surrounded with peers who lived in a different environment than I, who often had to face difficult challenges. Although I did hear about the digital divide, I did not realize how large in magnitude the issue was until I started to teach piano to underprivileged kids in the Bay Area. I joined Little Mozart, a program that my piano teacher initiated in which all of her graduated piano students would have the chance to teach kids who did not have the expenses to pay for piano lessons. This program provides free lessons and pianos, allowing kids a chance to learn more about music without the fear of money getting in the way. As I delved further into teaching piano, I discovered more of the difficulties my students had to face on a daily basis. Some of them came in late due to their parents’ work, and most could not understand English well. Through teaching piano, I realized how socioeconomic status reduces the opportunities for kids to learn and to grow to their full potential. It stood out to me that our community should provide more to help these children.
COVID-19 changes our lives tremendously and sets a new normal. Recognizing I could do more for our community, I co-founded a not for profit organization called LiveWell Care Packages. We provide free care packages for those in need during this difficult time, especially to low-income families. Through learning about how much these families enjoyed our care packages, it has led me to want to help underprivileged kids in a greater capacity, which guided me to BridgingTech. Working as a Bridging Tech High School Ambassador has given me the opportunity to supply children with tech devices during this pandemic. Being able to promote equitable learning for disadvantaged children in the Bay Area by improving tech access is a major step to bridging the digital divide in America. I am proud to be part of a major initiative to ensure that all students have the resources to engage in online learning.
Recent nationwide developments have forced a spotlight onto America’s inequities, allowing for the birth of new systems, braver generations, and a more accepting space for those most marginalized. Despite the large strides taken, by no means is our work completed - systemic racism perpetuates our society everywhere from generational poverty cycles to normalized microaggressions.
Bridging Tech strives to rectify an inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic; a disparity that has always been inherent but is now unmistakable in an age of social distancing and online learning. This problem, coined as the digital divide, is the difference between families who have internet connection and access to tech devices, and those who do not. Students in the latter families suffer as a result, and the rift spawned from this divide, the homework gap, is born.
A lack of means to access the internet limits opportunities to learn, making it difficult to complete assignments, obtain necessary information, and be academically successful. Personally, I can attest to the technological advantages privileged students are afforded over other low-income teens, as I currently attend a private high school in which every student has an iPad on them at all times. Small things that seem unremarkable to me such as a designated IT desk or homework assigned over Zoom calls are impossible in public schools that have to account for their students who may be left behind.
Most alarming are the cyclical effects of these disadvantages, in which minority kids and teens without devices score lower on standardized tests than their wealthier peers and suffer from lower graduation rates. When these students never received the opportunity to succeed in the first place, it becomes less and less likely that the children and grandchildren in these low income families will get better chances than those who came before them. It’s time for a new age of tech in the Bay - one where a student, regardless of their family’s financial status, can achieve what any other kid growing up in Silicon Valley can.
Growing up in San Jose, I was surrounded by the most diverse set of peers - all shaped by different experiences as well as varying socioeconomic and racial identities. I saw my privileged friends agonizing over what shoes they’d buy at the mall later, but I also witnessed some of my classmates deal with familial and financial hardships that seemed alien to me. This divide in my classmates and friends helped me realize that I was at the center of an acute economic and digital divide.
Events such as the recent pandemic and social justice movements have only emphasized the injustices and inequities in our current world. They have exposed the digital divide - the gap between people who have constant access to devices and a remote Internet connection and the people who don’t. This gap is often defined by varying social classes as well as racial and cultural identity.
Attending school in the Bay Area has put me in a unique position where I’ve been able to observe how cutting edge technology has greatly improved life, but disadvantaged others who don’t have the financial means to afford these devices. It’s also helped me realize that we have both the financial and material means to close this divide that prevents some from receiving an equal and fair chance at an education. Bridging this gap will break cycles of poverty, often connected to racial or religious backgrounds, and help provide all with the opportunity to learn.
Bridging Tech takes a direct approach at closing this gap, by using donations to provide children in homeless shelters with suitable learning devices - especially helpful as most learning has recently moved online. Every day, the inequity caused by the digital divide deepens, and we must work to close this gap and supply all with their fundamental right to an education.