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Coronavirus shutdowns expose low-income Bay Area students' struggle to get online

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Published in Science & Technology News

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Oakland student Jessica Ramos spent a lot of time on her phone after COVID-19 shuttered Skyline High School in March. But she wasn't just tweeting or texting friends.

She was reading her AP Language thesis over the phone, one line at a time, to her English teacher. Without an internet connection at home, it was the only way she could get his feedback before she sent in her final paper.

"He would just send me little quick corrections through text and that was pretty much it," she said.

This was the reality of remote learning for Ramos and thousands more students across the Bay Area who lacked the means to continue classes online. Nonprofits and fundraisers have tried their best to help. But as the coronavirus outbreak forces schools to start the new school year online again, disadvantaged students continue to struggle with access to technology. They're more at risk than ever of getting left behind.

A startling one-quarter of California students lack adequate access to the internet, according to a 2020 report by education nonprofit Common Sense. A majority of them are Black, Latinx or Native American.

Districts in the Bay Area have reported sobering numbers: the Oakland Public Education Fund estimates half of Oakland's 50,000 students lack either a computer or internet access and, according to a spokeswoman for San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo, 14,000 of San Jose's 36,000 students lack access to digital resources as well.

 

Ramos' story has played out across the Bay Area in thousands of other homes. Seventeen-year-old Devin Keppard-Tongue moved from Richmond to her grandmother's house in Brentwood in March so she could live somewhere with Wi-Fi. Fifteen-year-old Da'vine Smith's internet was too slow, especially when his sister had class at the same time, and he missed deadlines when his assignments failed to upload.

Devanny Aranda, who goes to a school for teen parents in Hayward, didn't think she'd be able to finish school at all when remote learning began. Her parents caught COVID-19, and she had to care for them and her daughter while she scrambled to find a way to get online.

"At one point I was like, maybe this isn't going to work out for me, maybe I might have to drop out," said Aranda, who has a laptop and Wi-Fi for her senior year at Burke Academy.

Ramos, also a rising senior, only had one laptop at home which she shared with her mom Alma, a preschool teacher who needed the computer to attend Zoom meetings and teach her class. With her parents working multiple jobs to keep up with their mortgage, they weren't able to afford Wi-Fi.

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