Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
With school buildings closed for the rest of the school year and most classes going online, students need computers immediately — and not all families have access to them.
That was one of the key points of a Seattle Times story in late March about online learning. After reading that a family in the story had five school-aged children and only one computer, a reader reached out to reporter Dahlia Bazzaz and offered technology to the family.
Bazzaz announced it on social media, but what about other people who had extra technology to donate?
After a followup tweet from Bazzaz, the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition sprung into action. The coalition immediately set up a student tech exchange. One form lets you list what you have to offer, and the other is used by educators and organizations that have been tracking families’ needs.
SESEC Executive Director Erin Okuno said they are trying to fill the technology gap immediately while details of Amazon’s donation of 8,200 computers to Seattle Public Schools are sorted out. They also want to get technology to the families who may fall through the cracks because they make too much money to qualify for the free computers but they do not make enough to meet their family’s needs.
“I think it’s important that we try to close some of the digital divide right now the best we can,” she said, noting that she is grateful for Amazon’s donation but knows it can’t help every family in need. “Families need access to technology. School and social connections have shifted online so kids and families who are connected have an advantage right now. We need to close that equity gap.”
The process for the exchange is simple. After a donor fills out the form, they are connected to educators. SESEC doesn’t want to connect them directly to families for safety reasons.
Beacon Hill International School first-grade teacher Nisha Daniel is collecting technology for her students.
“My parents immigrated here 40 years ago from India. And I distinctly remember how hard it was for them to navigate the United States school system,” she said. “That’s why I became the intermediary (for my students and their families). There’s a part of me that knows how much this can be a struggle. I know that when I was growing up I had people looking out for me. I want to be that for my families.”
The first tablet she collected was left for her on a porch. The next exchange was in person. In what’s now an extraordinarily common sight, two strangers wearing masks met, one put down an unremarkable bag then stepped away, the other approached to retrieve it. Except, this time the interaction included explanations of how to connect the wireless mouse and where the power cords were.
Chris Wilkins, a software engineer, brought the two Chromebooks that had been collecting dust at his house. He said delivering to strangers was fine. “We had an email exchange. It was fine. She seems nice,” he said laughing. He said he liked knowing that he was donating to an organization he could trust.
“People are coming from a place of love and compassion, and that lets me trust them,” Daniel said.
Though the system works, Wilkins said he saw some flaws. He thought a larger-scale solution with a collection point might be more efficient and worried that some people who were donating technology may not know how to properly clear their old data from their devices.
SESEC launched the exchange on April 5. As of Thursday, they’ve had about 165 requests for technology and only 11 donors.