A Pasadena-based nonprofit dedicated to providing science and technology education to underserved youths is planning an online gala and fundraiser on Thursday in an effort to provide equipment and internet services to help bridge the “digital divide,” which has only become more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers said.
STEAM:CODERS is hosting its “Bridging the Digital Divide” event online at 6 p.m.
The event, hosted by actress Emma Dumont of the TV series “Gifted,” will include an awards ceremony honoring three local people for their contributions to the cause, organizers said. A series of musical guests will provide entertainment.
The event is being hosted in conjunction with Innovate Pasadena’s weeklong celebration of technology known as “Connect Week.”
The concept that different students living in different circumstances have unequal access to tech-based education tools has long been a concern of STEAM:CODERS, said organization Executive Director and Founder Raymond Ealy. But the shift of schools in Los Angeles County and elsewhere to online-only instruction brought the problem to the forefront.
“We’ve always known… there were gaps, but now they’re glaring gaps,” Ealy said. “And for those who didn’t fully believe or understand how significant it was, now everybody can see it and there’s no confusion. But now the issue is: How do we fix it?”
The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) provides Chromebooks to each student. But not all districts do things the same way, Ealy said.
To that end, STEAM:CODERS is hoping to raise enough money to provide students with 200 laptop computers, 100 Wi-Fi hotspots, and 100 internet connections for a year, Ealy said.
“And then we’re going to also provide our STEAM:CODERS classes for schools and nonprofit organizations for free,” he said. “We want to keep these kids connected and we want them to continue to learn and have fun and try to minimize the impact of the pandemic.”
Among the honorees at Thursday’s event will be Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, which has partnered with STEAM:CODERS to provide coding classes for unprivileged students. College students generally teach the classes for the K-12 students.
“There was a digital divide long before we had a pandemic, in the sense that probably the best careers for the last decade at least have been in the tech industry,” Klawe said. “And that’s even more true now that we’re going through the pandemic because the tech industry seems to be the only sector that is still doing well.”
But the cutting-edge skills needed to obtain those types of jobs are less likely to be offered at public schools in lower-income areas, she said.
“If you’re in a low-income neighborhood, you may have no devices or just one device available to the family, and you may have several children, and you may also not have adequate Wi-Fi within your home,” according to Klawe.
“And so what we’re seeing now as we’re finishing the seventh month of the pandemic is that the situation is much more extreme right now because, particularly in Los Angeles County, virtually all school learning is still remote,” she said. “And even though I think teachers are doing their very best to offer great classes, the reality is that if you don’t have Wi-Fi and you don’t have a device that you can use to focus on things, the chances that you’re able to keep up with your schoolwork is practically nil. And so the purpose of this particular fundraiser is to try and get access to as many people as possible.”
More information, including how to register for the event or make a donation, is available online at steamcoders.org/digital-divide.