So far, donors have helped Ward 6 Mutual Aid hub Serve Your City DC (SYC DC) raise enough money to provide 86 backpacks to students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in online learning this fall.
These backpacks are filled with all the items that every student needs to be successful this year: a laptop, internet hotspot, face masks, sanitizer, fun games, and more.
As schools move to virtual learning in the fall, getting these items to all students is critical to ensuring all students have the tools to participate and succeed in school, said SYC Executive Director Maurice Cook.
“Everyone deserves an equal chance for educ success, and now not having a devices is part of the public health emergency, and an increase in educational disparity,”
The People Help the People
School systems such have moved to provide devices for students, with DCPS making a commitment to provide devices to meet the needs of 40 percent of students in kindergarten and above, as well as 9,000 hotspots. Last spring, for instance, DCPS distributed 10,000 devices and 4,000 hot spots starting with high school students and moving to lower grades, but still received criticism amid reports that some students did not receive needed technology and that some devices were in disrepair.
While some public charter schools – such as KIPP DC, Ingenuity Prep PCS, and Washington Leadership Academy PCS – maintained a 1 to 1 student-to-Chromebook ratio prior to COVID-19, several other public charter schools found themselves in unchartered territory, working urgently to secure laptops for students in need.
The Mutual Aid effort moves to fill that need. Although the #backtoschoolbash campaign focuses on making sure all kids have the equipment they need to succeed in the upcoming school year, the concept of mutual aid, summarized by SYC Executive Director Maurice Cook as “we keep us safe” –is not new.
“The people have to be the ones to create the system necessary to keep us safe, to ensure that everyon has the basics to surive, to ensure that we don’t call the police on each other, that we don’t take resources from one another, and that we’re not keeping each other out of public space,” said Cook.
The Ward 6 Mutual Aid group has been working to provide masks, PPE, cleaning supplies and more than $10,000 in groceries to families affected by the pandemic. Since spring, they have refurbished more than 100 laptops and tablets, handing them out together with hotspots so that students could continue learning.
Cook said that through mutual aid, the people of a community are providing what the city will not. “It’s an opportunity to actually equitably share resources, and it’s not dependent upon the ability of people to contribute to political campaigns,” he said.
Pandemic Highlights Digital Needs
While the Ward 6 Mutual Aid team has set a goal to provide backpacks to 150 students, Cook said the need is far greater. “This has to be an ongoing campaign, because 250 devices is not enought o put a dent into the disparity of internet access,” he said.
A report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that, of the 38,863 District students enrolled in Public Charter Schools, 28.4 percent or 11,047 students had low-access to internet and devices. The numbers are higher for DCPS, where officials estimated that approximately 30 percent, or about 15,600 of students required a device.
The pandemic is only exaserbating the disparities in access to technology that is now essential to get an education. A June 2020 study shows that DC has the second highest gap nationally for high-speed internet access between white students and students. The report indicates that 27 percent of Black students and 25 percent of Latino students in the District are cut off from home internet, compared to just 5 percent of White students.
Cook says the COVID-19 pandemic is only drawing attention to a problem that has existed in the District for decades. In the last 30 years, as the internet grew in importance, Cook said, the city has spent millions of dollars supporting real estate development. “If they would have focused on equality instead of mass development, than all students would have the devices and internet access,” he said. “It just shows that the city has not prioritizd black and brown people, who are the majority of residents.”
How to Help
The goal of the Mutual Aid organization is to bridge that gap. They want to provide 150 backpacks —but they’re really hoping donors will help get them to over 200.
Here’s how to help:
- Donate to cover the cost of a device, hotspot, or a full backpack—or purchase items from our Amazon Wish List
- Be recognized as a business sponsor
- Share this email with the people in your network
- Volunteer to shop, sort, pack, and deliver items/backpacks to our school partners by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about Serve Your City DC by visiting serveyourcitydc.org. Learn more about DC Mutual Aid Network by visiting the Facebook Group.