Published on September 2, 2022 in Digital Inclusion
The countdown is on for another school year to start and students at Ann Visger Preparatory Academy in River Rouge are celebrating a much-needed technology boost. Students recently received 115 Dell Chromebooks courtesy of Tech United – a dedicated group of chief information officers and IT professionals from local enterprise companies.
The Tech United team includes executives from Systems Technology Group (STG), BorgWarner, Rocket Mortgage, Stellantis, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Comerica, Ford, DTE and LEAR. Each member of the team is committed to making a difference in United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Community Schools by closing the digital divide and increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities for students.
United Way has five Community Schools in four districts across the region. The schools, which serve as a resource hub for the community, are supported through grant funding and the formation of strategic partnerships with corporate sponsors and community groups.
“Tech United is an example of nonprofits and philanthropists coming together with corporations to solve a community issue,” said Tonya Adair, chief people, equity and engagement officer at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “United Way has direct insight into the need and we’re able to make the connections, lift up ways that organizations can support, and offer guidance on how to do it in ways that are respectful and equitable in really driving impact.”
A recent Tech United event raised more than $170,000 for Community School technology needs. While gaps continue to permeate the region, the Tech United team is dedicated to raising additional funds and implementing creative measures to expand opportunities for all students.
“We have a great group of technology leaders that are committed to helping reduce the digital divide,” said Anup Popat, chairman and CEO for Systems Technology Group. Popat also is a Tech United chair.
Computers and internet access are widely viewed as commonplace in America, but wide disparities in access to these tools persist across socioeconomic and demographic divides due to systemic racism and other complex equity issues, including underinvestment – particularly in rural areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated these stark differences when students and teachers were suddenly expected to learn at home or adopt a hybrid learning model. Organizations stepped up to fill the gaps – offering funding support, free devices and connectivity. Two years later, with most schools back to full-time, in-person learning, the need for devices is on the rise.
“Technology is vitally important to our students,” says Ann Visger principal Nichole German. “Teachers can use it as a supplement to the curriculum, and it helps learning to be more engaging for our students.”
“We are so excited, and we believe that this is truly a blessing for our students.”
Some schools estimate that as many as 30-50 percent of the devices allocated to students early in the pandemic were lost or damaged. The new Chromebooks secured by Tech United will stay in the school building to ensure students have access to the latest technology and tools in the classroom.
“Ideally, we’ll have a 1:1 ratio of students to devices,” said Ellen Gilchrist, senior director of K-12 education and community initiatives at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Tech United is aiming to help us meet that goal.”
Current ratios in some areas of Pontiac are as high as 10:1. Based on estimates from our Community Schools, the team will need to secure around 1,000 computers to make sure every student has a device.
Devices are just the beginning of a greater Tech United mission to level the playing field in education and beyond.
“We understand that this is the floor,” Ellen said. “Once you get devices in, then you can work on creating environments that are competitive with schools in more affluent neighborhoods.”
“That’s when we can start creating more maker spaces and leaning into experiential learning, mentorship and opportunities in the tech world to expose students to what’s possible.
“These experiences, coupled with the right tools and resources will drive students and motivate them to become their best selves.
“Providing devices isn’t closing the gap – this is fixing a pothole. With true partnership, working side by side with schools and employers, we can close the gap.”
Tech United allows local business leaders to play a meaningful role in shaping the future of communities across southeastern Michigan and beyond.
“Every job requires some form of technology,” said Daria Colvett, CIO for Stellantis – North America. “It is critical to have a good grasp of technology no matter where your career might take you.”
When children have only limited exposure to technology, it narrows the lanes of possible pathways to success. Over the past several years, with the proliferation of hybrid learning and work environments, our language has changed even more dramatically – further increasing the importance of soft technology skills, such as communication and problem-solving, which can only be gained through prolonged exposure.
Technology offers the potential to improve the education experience for all students. According to Project Tomorrow, 59 percent of middle school students say digital educational tools have helped them with their grades and test scores.
Interactive technology that allows students to create and explore substantially improves academic achievement, particularly for underprivileged youth. As a longtime educator, Ellen knows first-hand the difference technology can make in the classroom.
“Technology allows teachers to customize learning,” Ellen said. “It also allows for the creation of really rich education experiences that are compelling to kids.”
“Without that, you’re confined to a one-size-fits-all approach, which is bound to leave some students behind.”
Technology enriches the texture of learning – making the classroom a more exciting and collaborative place. Even if students are completing all their core competencies, they’re still not competitive without the experiences technology can provide.
“When we think about being competitive in this world, it requires exposure to things like coding, STEM, and virtual reality,” Ellen said, speaking about a virtual field trip Southfield students recently took to the MET. “When you have access to devices at scale, all of these doors get opened.”
Tech United will increase exposure to STEM for Community Schools students through in-person and virtual tours to give students behind-the-scenes experiences to see STEM in real-life scenarios.
Students will join the Tech United team for student learning journeys at events like the North American International Auto Show and the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council Conference. Moving forward, Tech United will work with United Way to develop a meaningful STEM mentorship and internship program to provide opportunities for students in each Community School established throughout the region.
“Our students now have to have access to new technology so they can get real-time feedback, close the achievement gap, and then create other opportunities to accelerate learning,” said Dr. Derrick Coleman, River Rouge superintendent.
When groups come together to spark change, it allows a broader reach than anyone can accomplish individually.
“When you pull together a group like Tech United, it maximizes everyone’s strengths,” Tonya said. “That’s how you’re able to accomplish great things.”
Are you looking for ways to get involved and support students heading back to school? Visit our volunteer portal, today.