Collaborating Across Nonprofits to Close the Student Digital Divide
Updated: Jan 18
How Teach For America and Endless OS Foundation are reconnecting students in the USA.
A student-centric program launched at the pandemic’s start.
The Digital Divide is a gargantuan foe demanding collaborations that will be more impactful than results achieved via individual actions. At Endless OS Foundation (EOSF) collaboration is critical to our success as a nonprofit fighting digital inequity issues like student access to technology and the growing homework gap. That’s why in May of 2020, we partnered with Teach For America (TFA), who works with schools in low-income communities across the U.S., to help support some of the country’s digitally disconnected students.
How BIG is the student digital divide?
The divide is so large that it’s everyone’s problem to collaboratively focus on and solve long-term. Of the 51 million K-12 public school students in the USA alone, there are still up to 15 million students living digitally disconnected lives and struggling to stay connected with their schools, teachers and required curriculum – and 75% of solutions implemented in the 2020–2021 school year are set to expire in the next 1–3 years.
Nonprofit organizations like Teach For America and EOSF have pointed out that the USA’s transition to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the already existing deep inequities in its education system – including access to technology and online learning resources for millions. There is no doubt that all students have experienced major disruptions to their education in 2020 and 2021, but those without access to computers or reliable internet at home have a far greater risk of falling behind academically than those with access.
Collaboration is critical to our success fighting digital inequity issues like student access to technology. That's why we partnered with Teach For America in May of 2020.
Joining forces for a stronger impact for students.
Renato Peixoto, EOSF's Director of Deployment Partnerships, sets the scene as schools closed nationwide: "The impact of the pandemic closing schools became our most urgent focus at Endless. The transition to distance learning was starting to take place but with huge disparities among students and families – some able to follow remotely, others with limited connectivity, and others with no possibility of pursuing their studies at home due to lack of computers or suitable internet. We knew we could close a small portion of the suddenly-growing student digital divide by donating up to 1,100 computers preloaded with educational resources in our OS. However, we lacked a channel for quick distribution to students. Teach for America was one of the first partners to respond to this urgent need, offering immediate access to schools and students throughout the country.”
Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding leaders who make an initial two-year commitment to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the effort to end educational inequity. Today, Teach For America is a force of over 64,000 alumni and corps members working in over 9,000 schools nationwide in pursuit of profound systemic change. TFA works shoulder to shoulder with students, educators, and community members throughout the USA, making them an ideal partner for a student laptop donation deployment.
Laptops to students in 9 states through Teach For America’s channels.
TFA developed a process for educators to identify high-need areas for donations. From there, laptops were shipped to both educators and Teach For America regional offices for student use.
By the end of the donation period, laptops were distributed to students ranging from 4th–12th grade across the country, including California, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington D.C. Students who formerly had no access to technology or internet in the home were now able to engage with their studies.
All laptops prepared for students came with a customized version of the Endless operating system installed to allow any offline student, or student with unstable internet access, to have a deep offline library of learning and discovery resources available to them at all times right on the laptop, including educational content from TFA teachers. The Endless OS is specifically designed for offline communities, and for first-time computer users with a simple-to-use interface inspired by mobile devices. Each student's laptop was also internet-enabled, allowing for online access when available for Zoom classes, online learning materials etc.
McKenzie Roney, Director, National Corporate Partnerships at TFA helped to coordinate the distributions with EOSF: "We were so grateful to collaborate with such a committed partner like Endless to get our students and families access to resources that were critical for learning loss in the pandemic."
According to Ana Gonzalez, executive director of Teach For America’s Rio Grande Valley, the donated laptops allowed hundreds of offline students access to materials and tools that would enable their success in the new virtual reality of schooling during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, 4th – 12th grade students in CA, KY, MD, MS, NY, SC, TX, VA, and DC received laptops. Students without access to technology or home internet were able to re-engage with their studies and schools.
What impact looks like in the community. Feedback from the schools, teachers and students.
Donated computers in the hundreds may seem like a drop in the bucket in relation to the USA’s full student population experiencing the Homework Gap, but the fact is that community impacts are made a student and family at a time. Feedback from students and teachers confirms how transformative the influence of a single laptop can be.
For many years, Cassandra Hernandez, a 3rd grade student in Palmview TX, needed a laptop to do her schoolwork, even to the point of asking Santa to place one under the tree on Christmas Eve. In December of 2020 her laptop arrived via our collaboration with TFA. Prior to receiving her laptop, Cassandra’s only option had been the risk of in-school learning or being offline and disconnected from her classes and school during the pandemic.
Marisol Lopez-Muñoz, a teacher at Dr. Palmira Mendiola Elementary School in Mission, TX (students pictured at the top of this article) had this to share about the program’s impact on her students like Cassandra: “I am very grateful to Endless OS and their partnership with Teach For America for the laptops they donated to Mendiola Elementary. For my students, receiving a laptop in the middle of a very unusual and trying school year gave them an opportunity to continue learning. Many of the students I work with had connection problems or did not have a device at home. Thanks to Endless OS, parents and students had an easier time since the laptops could connect to the internet but also had enough offline resources to learn without leaving home. Students that had missed the first months of classes were able to reconnect and engage with the rest of the class. This contribution is very important to the kids we serve. The TFA and Endless commitment to our kids and their education means the world to us.”
Feedback from students and teachers confirms how transformative the influence of a single laptop can be. Hundreds of offline students now had access to resources, enabling their success in the new school & pandemic reality.
Feedback from Teach For America on the program.
Ana Gonzalez, executive director of TFA Rio Grande Valley continues, “Our country’s transition to distance learning during the pandemic highlighted the deep inequities in our education system, including the digital divide that exists in many low-income communities across the United States and here at home in the Rio Grande Valley. Last year, students experienced major disruptions to their education, and those without access to computers or reliable internet at home were at greater risk of falling behind academically. We couldn’t have been more excited to partner with the Endless OS Foundation to provide laptops to students, and we’re grateful that the Endless operating system allows customization, including pre-loaded learning curriculum and resources that can be accessed offline.”
We are looking to Keep All Kids Learning in 2021 and onward.
To emphasize the challenges that offline students and teachers are still facing daily, Endless OS Foundation has joined the #KeepAllKidsLearning campaign launched by the Endless Network to bring much-needed online resources to offline students and their families. As we head towards the summer and then gear-up for the Fall 2021 school year start, in-need students around the USA will continue to look for resources like laptop donations and accessible learning resources that do not require internet access.
It will take broad collaboration across nonprofits and content providers, and programs similar to the TFA donations and Keep All Kids Learning to get students the critical materials they need. Framing this urgency is the likelihood that the USA’s broadband-for-all deployment across its urban and rural areas could take a decade or more to implement.
Collaborating in 2021 and beyond to help our students.
Renato Peixoto leads many collaborations at Endless and sums up the need for cross-pollination among organizations: "Change is underway in the nonprofit Digital Divide community. We have dedicated ourselves to developing solutions and creating opportunities for underserved and under-resourced populations, and understand that now –more than ever before– is the time for deeper collaboration across NGOs. 2020 was a milestone, a warning, a call to action that our collective effort is a necessary tool for social transformation. Without a doubt, when we act together we get even closer to the changes we want to see."
Change is underway in the nonprofit community. Now, more than ever before, is the time for deeper collaboration across NGOs. When we act together we get even closer to the changes we want to see. — Renato Peixoto, EOSF
The need has obviously been great for students during 2020–21. The Endless and Teach For America laptop program to support students is just one of many thousands of collaborative impacts needed. We’ll bring updates as more stories come in from these students. In the meantime you can learn more about Teach For America and the great work they do here, and feel free to reach out to us here.
Founded in April 2020, Endless OS Foundation is a nonprofit focused on expanding PC access, improving digital literacy and experiences, and providing world class education and discovery content to offline communities in need. By leveraging partnerships with leading technology, educational, and lifelong learning organizations, EOSF seeks to meet the technology needs of underserved and unconnected communities while making learning fun and safe for all with a growing world of learning content, games, skill-creating tools, and the Endless operating system.