Gilead Supports Efforts to Help Close Digital Divide in San Francisco Bay Area

Stories@Gilead - August 25, 2020 - 5 min read

When shelter-in-place orders were issued earlier this year, thousands of San Francisco Bay Area children and teenagers were instantly at risk of not being able to fully participate in their education for at least the rest of the school year.

These K-12 students either had no computer or internet access, or had to share devices and bandwidth between multiple family members. In response, communities and organizations have partnered on innovative projects to eliminate the educational disparity and ensure all students have the technology they need – during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Oakland’s, #OaklandUndivided campaign, and StreetCode Academy’s, Level Up initiative in East Palo Alto, are committed to making sure all local students and families have access to technology tools.

Oakland Launches Digital Equity Fundraising Campaign
The City of Oakland and the Oakland Unified School District partnered with two local nonprofits – Tech Exchange and the Oakland Public Education Fund – to launch the two-phased #OaklandUndivided campaign. The campaign’s vision is to equip all Oakland public school students with a computer, internet connection and other digital resources, including ongoing technical support.

“We’re on a mission to make the big systemic changes that ensure every child and family in Oakland have a computer and internet access this year, and every year after,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in a press release.

In the campaign’s first week, #OaklandUndivided reached its goal of raising $12.5 million to fund the first phase of the project. The funding will help purchase, fit, and distribute computers and WiFi hot spots through the 2020-21 school year for the 25,000 students in Oakland who are disconnected from distance learning. Work in the second phase of the campaign will focus on maintaining this vision annually - considering new students, families who have moved, and those with lost or outdated computers.

Gilead helped kickstart the second phase of #OaklandUndivided with a $500,000 contribution to support the initiative’s leaders in maintaining the digital equity of its students, joining corporate donors Amazon, Salesforce, Golden State Warriors and Hewlett Packard Enterprises.

“I want to thank Gilead for its generosity and leadership for launching our critical Phase 2 fundraising effort to help us create a permanent solution,” Schaaf said in a press release. “Oakland is grateful for Gilead’s commitment to our community, as well as every tech entrepreneur, company, organization, foundation and individual donor who has joined us to support #OaklandUndivided.”

#OaklandUndivided estimates it will need annual funding of $4 million to support the program on an ongoing basis and will continue to seek additional partners to ensure the previous digital divide does not reopen. As school resumed in Oakland at the start of August, #OaklandUndivided began to give away computers and WiFi hotspots, and public school families were surveyed in order to ensure all needs are met.

“It is imperative that we continue to fundraise to sustain this initial effort and eliminate the digital divide in Oakland for good,” says Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Oakland Unified School District Superintendent. “All Oakland students deserve to be connected to the internet with full access to their education when they’re at home.”

StreetCode Academy Supports Students in East Palo Alto
A similar program is working to meet the needs of children in South Bay communities, where the StreetCode Academy is connecting students and families with laptops and technology education.

StreetCode Academy launched its Level Up initiative to help close the digital divide in East Palo Alto by raising $2.5 million to fund 2,500 laptops, as well as internet service and technology education for local students.

“The technology inequity in Silicon Valley existed before the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Olatunde Sobomehin, CEO, StreetCode Academy. “However, without laptops and internet connection during the pandemic, students and families were also disconnected from education and economic opportunities. We are excited to close this divide by providing technology that can help people and their communities realize their fullest lives.”

Founded in 2014, the community-based organization, strives to empower students and families of color with the skills, mindsets and networks to use technology to help reach their full potential by providing free high-quality technology education classes in coding, entrepreneurship and creativity. In just six years, StreetCode Academy has grown from serving 150 to 2,000 people a year.

StreetCode Academy received 130 laptop donations and registration for its technology classes has more than tripled since the start of the Level Up initiative.

In July, Gilead contributed $250,000 to the Level Up initiative to help 250 families connect with essential resources.

“With our headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are committed to ensuring students who live in communities near the Gilead campus have the tools they need to attend school virtually,” says Kate Wilson, Senior Director, Corporate Giving, Gilead. “Equity in education is fundamental toward achieving health, economic and social equity.”

“Thanks to Gilead and our other sponsors, we are now very close to reaching our $2.5 million goal,” says Joel Valencia, Development Director, StreetCode Academy.

Joel says 43% of the laptops given to students and families have been the only laptop in the home and 96% of the individuals who received laptops immediately accessed technology education by registering for StreetCode Academy classes.

“We want to provide all students and families in need with internet connection, computers and technology education,” says Olatunde. “Everyone deserves an opportunity to build a better future.”

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