Green Dot Schools Work to Narrow the Digital Divide for South LA Families

Mario twins

For many parents, COVID-19 has surfaced new challenges and anxieties as they grapple with uncertainty. Adjusting to what some call the ‘new normal’ has been far from easy for Noemi Rodriguez and her family. Navigating social services and completing school work has become a tedious task as Rodriguez splits usage of her household’s only computer between her husband and three kids.

Since the school closure, Rodriguez has monitored her children’s classwork, and has consistently checked in with their schools. She has twin boys who are seniors at Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy and a kindergarten-aged daughter who attends a local charter school. 

“It’s just been tough. It’s hard to teach kindergarten,” Rodriguez said. 

The COVID-19 health crisis left millions of parents struggling not only to keep their families safe, but to maintain their children’s education. School closures further exposed the digital divide that has long been the norm for families across the country. 

When developing our distance learning program, it was critical that our online courses possess the same high quality curriculum and effective pedagogical practices that exist in our traditional classrooms. More so, it was imperative that the plan address the digital inequities that persist in the communities we serve. According to the Senate Joint Economic committee, nearly 1 in 3 households lack broadband access making distance learning impossible for roughly 12 million school aged children.

Before the school closure, Rodriguez’s twins would complete their homework using the computers available at Ánimo Watts. With only one computer at home, her sons have occasionally used their phones to complete their homework.

Committment to Education

Green Dot guaranteed that all 15,000 students across Los Angeles and Memphis would have guaranteed technology to participate in distance learning. Understanding the needs of the families it serves, Green Dot purchased over 4,000 laptops and hotspot devices for its students in April. Ánimo Watts principal Esther Deth said her school’s team was committed to helping each and every one of her students. 

“Our operations team sent a survey out to families, through phone calls and email, to understand their technological situations,” Deth said.

Ánimo Watts has focused heavily on increasing the amount of computers available to students on campus over the last few years. In preparation for distance learning, Ánimo Watts had enough computers for each student in need to take home—and focused primarily on distributing wireless hotspots. 

“Noemi is a parent of twelfth graders, and we’ve been working for families like hers,” Deth added.

Now, Rodriguez’s twins can use separate computers to complete their online assignments, video conferences, and word processing. 

“Having these computers makes me feel a little less stressed,” Rodriguez said. “Our home computer doesn’t have all the programs. These new computers make it easier for my kids—and makes it easier for me.”

Adapting Forward

Deth doesn’t plan for Ánimo Watts interaction with their community to stop there. She said her team is working around the clock to make sure all students are served. “There are so many people who are working hard to make this happen,” Deth said. 

Roles at Ánimo Watts are constantly evolving to keep up with the pandemic. The school's security team is calling families to make sure their needs are met. Meanwhile, “Our operations team is learning how to do tech support, and they’re the first line of defense when students are learning how to use their computer,” she added. 

Ánimo Watts, like many other Green Dot Schools, are continuing Coffee with the Principal meetings over video conference apps. “We’re putting together an opportunity to share all of the great resources with our families—to give them important updates, to let them know how they can check on their student’s progress, and hear about additional needs that we can help with,” Deth said.

“Our success so far is due in large part to the things we’ve worked hard to build over the course of the year and many years prior,” she added. 

We remain steadfast in our mission to remove barriers to the success of our students.