Desk giveaway for families struggling with distance learning

Perhaps overlooked in the challenge to provide distance learning to Oakland students was one basic ingredient. A desk.

Many are using kitchen tables, beds, or sofas.

"I think he has better focus at a desk," said parent Scott Riley.

That's why the non-profit organization The Oakland Reach, which works with low-income families, sponsored a desk giveaway Wednesday.

Since the group had only a hundred desks to give away, it gave out gift cards so parents could buy one.

"Many of our families are struggling financially. With COVID hitting, jobs ended right away.  Unemployment claims are backed up," said Lakisha Young, executive director of The Oakland Reach.

One grandmother got a desk for her granddaughter, one of three kids she is looking after.

"Her brothers use the kitchen but she needs her own space," said Connie Williams.

Six weeks into the school year she, like many grandparents, parents, and students, are still facing the challenges of distance learning.

For Williams, sometimes the wifi goes down at home.

"They come in and say, 'Grandma I can't get in. I can't log back in.' Then they fix it and can get logged in to their next class. But they miss that class," she says.

That creates a domino effect.

"It can get overwhelming to the point where they lose interest. And that makes my job harder because then I have to motivate them. Push past it. Come on, we can do it," she said.

Another grandmother says it's going well, technically. But that doesn't mean it is easy managing four students.

"It gets overwhelming trying to make sure everyone gets the correct class at the correct time. Things like that, but it's working out," says Bernadette Fenceroy.

The Oakland Unified School District says it has provided thousands of laptop computers to students in need and is working with T-Mobile to improve wifi. And it provides technical support. But there are glitches.

"The families we are hearing from, generally speaking, are pretty happy despite the challenges we are all experiencing because of COVID," says OUSD spokesman John Sasaki.

"I'm a fighter so I push and I make it happen," says Williams.