Tom Barron introduced our guest speaker, Isabel Wang the co-founder and executive director of The Bridging Tech Charitable Trust. Bridging Tech is a non-profit that was founded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Stanford University students who are passionate about educational equity. The organization is active in 15 cities around the U.S. Its mission is to bridge the digital divide for underserved children by providing laptops for at-home learning, along with long-term enriching educational opportunities. They strive to impact the lives of the children through ongoing tutoring and mentorship programs. She started Bridging Tech to promote understanding and enriching educational opportunities.
Isabel is from Shaker Heights, OH. She focused on race relations, public health, educational equity and technology. Discrimination early on will continue. Race relations are a “huge passion of mine”. “We need to break barriers and reduce systemic inequity so that marginalized communities can thrive and rise from poverty.” “What I really want to help with is educational equities.” Educational equities are one of the best way to achieve progress forward.
Her inspiration was a woman named Margot from San Mateo, a volunteer at women’s shelters, who identified difficulties in people who have problems because they do not have access or training in technology; they suffer from the digital divide. Homelessness creates numerous obstacles to work their way through the divide. Margot and Isabel met at Outdoor House (a dorm) and connected based on their passion or social justice.
She tried calling shelters to make sure students had technology access. Over 11 million students nationwide do not have access to technology from their home. Students that do have devices complete homework easier, access resources easier, and thus get a better education . Also 3.7 million people do not have access to the internet. Then she will focus on the homeless centers around the country, identifying New York and Los Angeles as the first and second largest homeless centers in the country.
Her shared purpose is to bridge the digital divide by offering technology for at-home learning and distribute loaner devices from their school districts.
Isabel claims to have transformed the lives of 1,500 students in the first 7 months of their operation. They offered free mentorship and tutoring services and partnered with academic services to offer free courses.
In terms of growth, they just keep on being left behind, and falling further behind. This is focused on the children of the homelessness, who are the innocent victims in this whole process. Other inequities join together with the digital divide to exacerbate the whole problem.
The Journey says “as long as you’re passionate you can make a difference”. Many shelters did not receive laptops last year even though promised, and school districts that worked with them last year are not working with them this year. It’s a journey.
Isabell has made Computers for Kids a partner. You can’t do it all alone, so you must partner to accomplish a lot more.
A recent court case provided Internet access in homeless shelters in NYC. Bridging Tech is currently made up of all volunteers and hopes to have paid employees in the future.
She wants to break generational cycles and provide educational equity. Also helping the parents to understand the importance of breaking the digital divide.
President Biden is working on universal pre K education that works into their model for breaking the digital divide.
“If we want to make sure all kids receive an excellent education, we also have to think about how we pay teachers.” “We have to pay attention on what we pay teachers assures we have the best teachers for our students.”
Bridging Tech is coming out with an online platform soon to make sure under-resourced students can access tutoring and mentors. Isabel also wants to work through different legislators on internet access. “Our kids need more funding for internet access”.
All of this would help with a partnership between non-profits and government institutions working together.
We have a history with Isabel’s organization. She provides 40 laptops for the Westside Transitional Village under the guidance of PP Diane Good. She calls it “a very special gift” especially to the students graduating this year for College or Jr. College.
Phil Gabriel offered the suggestion of placing computers and laptops in libraries, YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs to broaden the access.
Aly Shoji mentioned that elementary school kids are very savvy and are required to have laptops or iPads.
John O’Keefe asked if they are a 501C(3), which they are, and also about their source of funding which came to about $230,000 the first year. Isabel is looking into federal grants and foundations. Also GoFundMe campaigns and emails and news features.
Full-time students started this foundation, including fund raising, and building and expanding the organization.
PP Dwight asked what $1,000 buys in her organizations, and the success of using laptops in LAUSD. Isabel can get brand new limited laptops for about $75 plus $25 shipping and the manufacturers are adding in free headphones so students can work on their schoolwork without the distraction of loud siblings.
She likes to work with the shelters that have Internet access, or find those that do.
Educational equity versus educational equality is a big focus for them, and they work around those problems by working with the homeless students, and getting them internet access.
On a personal note, Isabel told us she took a leave of absence to work on this cause, making her a senior next year also.
President Nancy thanked Isabel for an inspiring presentation and added that a donation was made in Isabel’s honor to the Los Angeles Public Library Westwood branch.
The general meeting was adjourned, followed immediately by a quick vote by the Board of Directors. This vote confirmed a $1,000 scholarship for a student at University and Loyola Marymount High Schools. D5280 has a matching program but with a deadline tomorrow.
Respectfully submitted to my fellow Rotarians,
PP Mark Rogo