For years, all Cassandra Hernandez wanted for Christmas was a laptop to do her schoolwork. She said she’d spend many holidays hoping to see a laptop from Santa Clause under the Christmas tree every year.
“But there never was one, I guess laptops are too expensive even for Santa,” Hernandez, a 3rd grade student from Dr. Palmira Mendiola Elementary School said.
That changed this week as Hernandez was one of 20 recipients from her school who received a brand-new laptop from two organizations to help 300 students from around the Valley to participate in distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
The computers, donated from the Endless OS Foundation and Teach For America, are pre-installed with Endless OS, a program which provides reliable access to online content, curriculum, and apps through an asynchronous, or intermittent, internet connection. Students receiving the computers will be able to access learning materials selected by educators, enabling distance learning at home regardless of reliable connectivity, according to a news release from TFA.
“With this donation, hundreds more students will have access to materials and tools that can enable their success in this new virtual reality,” TFA Executive Director Ana Gonzalez stated. “Students have already experienced major disruptions to their education, and those without access to computers or reliable internet at home are at greater risk of falling behind academically.”
According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 14 percent of school-age children — more than nine million children in total — don’t have internet access at home, and as a result are unable to effectively participate in distance learning. Hernandez is one of those students.
“It’s why I’m at school, I can’t connect at home,” Hernandez said. “I’ve never had a laptop before and don’t know how to use it but it’s mine.”
Hernandez is one of 48 students attending school in person due to a lack of reliable internet connection even with a hotspot device, Dr. Palmira Mendiola Elementary School Principal Alicia Gutierrez said.
All the students attending school in-person either don’t have an electronic device to do their schoolwork at home or live in “dead zones,” areas where there is no internet connectivity.
“Some of the students have to use their parent’s cell phones to do schoolwork but for most of them, being in school is the only way they can connect,” Gutierrez said. “I was thrilled when the organizations reached out to me to receive these laptops, it benefits the entire school even if it’s just a handful of students who received a laptop.”
Marisol Lopez-Muñoz, Hernandez’s teacher, is a TFA alumni who reached out to the organization to help students like Hernandez with their online learning.
“Every day in class I see the kids get visually frustrated on camera because they can’t connect and do their work,” Lopez-Muñoz said. “We see that reflected in their scores because they’re missing out on testing and on work. They get upset and sad on camera and I check in with parents and even they are struggling to help their kids turn in work.”
The students who receive the laptops valued at $300 will get to keep it, Gutierrez said. She thanks Lopez-Muñoz for her efforts in bringing the laptops to students.
“She thought of others when she got these laptops for students at two different grade levels instead of just for her class,” Gutierrez said, adding that Lopez-Muñoz’s initiative exemplified the school motto. “‘Doing good things for others with a blind eye and an open heart’ is exactly what she did and I was thrilled at these results.”