As the new school year starts many students have the usual back-to-school anxiety: what to wear for the first day of school, will classes be easy or hard, will they remember their teachers’ names, and how will their relationships with friends grow and continue.
With this novel distance learning environment, many students are worried about whether their computers will connect to the online learning platform, and if so, will their siblings pop up singing and dancing to embarrass them.
For too many parents in the Oakland area concerns for their children go much deeper. Many parents are concerned about whether their child will fall behind academically, will be bored or under-stimulated, and for many parents, they are concerned with whether their children will have access to a computer with a strong internet connection. Lack of quality computers and internet access are issues that acutely impact Black communities.
To ease parents’ concerns and to place Oakland students on the path for success this 2020-2021 school year, Mayor Libby Schaaf hosted a live virtual town hall on Sept. 3. The online event focused on distance learning and what the school district is doing to ensure that all children get an excellent education, but particularly for students who are most underserved. The town hall featured prominent voices in the education space including the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Sondra Aguilera, and Sal Khan – CEO and Founder of Bay Area-based education non-profit Khan Academy.
During the event, Schaaf discussed Oakland’s Undivided Program, which has raised $13 million to eliminate the digital divide in the OUSD community. Through this program, the school district is working hard to ensure every Oakland public school student has three things: a computer, internet connection, and technology support in their home. As of today, 9,000 of the 25,000 donated laptops are in the homes of students from low-income backgrounds along with 15,000 hotspots.
“You can’t do distance learning without a device, an internet connection and technical support to help families learn how to use and keep that technology accessed for distance learning,” said Schaaf. “This is our moment to close the digital divide for good.” Students who are still in need can reach out to their schools for support or call 510-866-2260 to learn more about Oakland Undivided.
And the message for parents who are worried about their students falling behind is that there are academic supports in place to bolster student achievement. During this call, it was announced that OUSD has partnered with Khan Academy.
Khan Academy gives students supplemental educational services including free lessons in math, science and humanities in multiple languages, including Spanish. Their platform includes more than 70,000 practice problems, as well as videos, articles and quizzes. They also offer free tools for teachers and parents to track student progress so they can see how to support students in growth areas.