Equity in the Digital Divide: A Panel Discussion

 

On April 23, 2021, we hosted a rockstar panel to discuss how to disrupt the digital divide. We heard from school leaders and teachers, students (including a Code Nation alum!), elected officials, and nonprofit advisors. Scroll to the end of the post to check out the full panel.

Our moderator, Pat Williamson, advisor at Have Her Back, kicked off the discussion by asking Jessica Ramos, a student leader at Oakland Unified School District, what it’s been like to be remote: “Many classmates didn’t have access to computers, and this is very typical in low-income areas where we don’t have resources to get our education. One thing I did was contact Mayor Libby Schaaf and ask about resources for students.” Through Jessica’s efforts, Mayor Schaaf allocated resources for 25,000 computers and hotspots.

Jessica set the tone for the discussion: “As a community, we’re supposed to be here to support one another!” That’s right, Jessica — we need all hands on deck!

Talisa English-Harris, computer science, mathematics & business accounting dual credit instructor at Walter Dyett High School for the Arts in Chicago, made the astute reflection that it’s essential to give students the time and space to open up about their situations. For example, they might be in a remote coding class but only have access to their phones. They need to feel comfortable to say, “I don’t have what I need.”

Talisa went on to note student needs are often bigger than tech: “Students are dealing with family members dying from COVID. You have to address the whole child and whole person.”

Pat asked for the parent perspective from Maria Gutierrez, a Code Nation alumni parent, regarding her challenges over this last year. She explained that it’s best when we think beyond our own children and instead focus on what’s best for the community as a whole. This is what Maria did when she advocated for computer science programs in her daughter’s high school. “My daughter is now a computer science major. I had to actively educate myself on the curriculum, understand who was in charge, and schedule meetings.”

Access to coding and building pathways to careers in tech is what Code Nation is all about. We know that this is one aspect of breaking down the systemic digital divide.

Justin, a sophomore at Stonybrook College and Code Nation alum, shared his tech pathway. “The thing I learned right away [in my college classes] was the lack of representation of students in tech… I felt a bit discouraged like I didn’t fit in.”

This made Justin want to help his fellow students, so he started a group called Colorstack. The group hosts events with companies and works toward getting students internships. Code Nation programming taught Justin a lot about the power of connections and networking, and this is his way of paying it forward.

Abril Vela, special projects coordinator in the Office of Computer Science at Chicago Public Schools, helped the audience understand how important it is to collect data on the programs available to students. To identify gaps in access, it’s critical to “map all programs and understand the data to better provide things that make an impact.”

Jose Magaña, managing director of impact at City Year San José/Silicon Valley and trustee with the San José Unified School District, echoed the need for data to understand the depths of the gaps in access, and to consider how far-reaching the digital divide truly is. “Unless we’re having a long-term approach, we’re going to continue to have this conversation over and over again. A computer is only a computer if you know how to use it; not just for students but teachers and staff too. Families needed to know how to use tech [this last year] because learning was taking place at home!”

Our two student panelists, Jessica and Justin, concluded the panel with wise words about how to make computer science more accessible and the individual roles that they vow to play into the future:

“As a student board member and student organizer, it’s an honor to share my voice and represent so many different voices especially when it comes to people of color. I have been becoming a mentor to a lot of students … Encourage your students to speak up. As adults, teachers, and community organizers, it is your job to listen to your youth because that is the future generation who will be running this country.”

“I will keep supporting CN alum and current students — students who felt like me when I came into Stonybrook, [I’ll] keep supporting them, letting them know ‘you belong here and you’re here for a reason’…They say, ‘the sky’s the limit,’ but for us right now it’s just the beginning,” concluded Justin.

Access the slide deck, which includes the policy toolbox to help you all activate your communities and spaces to disrupt the digital divide.

Watch the full recording of the panel discussion.

Follow Code Nation and supporting partners Code.org, Girls Inc., Hack the Hood, and Tech Exchange to continue the conversation about how we can all be a part of disrupting the digital divide.

WE THANK OUR SPEAKERS

Talisa English-Harris
COMPUTER SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS & BUSINESS/ACCOUNTING DUAL CREDIT INSTRUCTOR
WALTER H DYETT HS FOR THE ARTS
CHICAGO, IL

Maria Gutierrez
CODE NATION ALUMNI PARENT & OFFICE MANAGER AT ZWILLGEN
SAN FRANCISCO, CA

José Magaña
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF IMPACT, CITY YEAR SAN JOSÉ/SILICON VALLEY; TRUSTEE, SAN JOSÉ UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
SAN JOSE, CA

Jessica Ramos
OAKLAND UNDIVIDED STUDENT LEADER/ OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT STUDENT BOARD MEMBER OAKLAND, CA

Justin Poveda
CODE NATION ALUM & SOPHOMORE AT STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
NEW YORK, NY

Abril Vela
SPECIAL PROJECTS COORDINATOR, OFFICE OF COMPUTER SCIENCE AT CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS |
CHICAGO, IL

Patrick G. Williamson
ADVISOR, HAVE HER BACK |
NEW YORK, NY

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