Laptops given out to close the digital divide among Oakland students

For about 200 Oakland families with school-aged children, the playing field leveled a little on Tuesday.

"it's always a good thing to do everything you can to improve your child's life and chance for a  better future," said Emanuel Ward.

Ward went to The Oakland Reach City-Wide Virtual Hub to pick up a computer for his son who is going into the fifth grade.

He says their computer at home doesn't work and he doesn't want his child's education to suffer.

"When you can't afford to break things and fix things when they're broken, you feel left out of the loop," he said.

That's why the community based nonprofit the Oakland Reach organized an effort to help students on the wrong end of the digital divide.

Once the schools shut down because of the pandemic, organizers say, the difference between the haves and the have nots became more pronounced.

"We talk about the digital divide. Our families that have the least internet access and don't have the computers, it is important to provide the infrastructure they need," said Lakisha Young, executive director of The Oakland Reach.

The African-American owned IT support business, the Sydewayz Cafe, on Macarthur Boulevard, helped distribute the devices and is helping establish a technical hub for families.

"I've had the opportunity to really see some of the barriers that a lot of our families have with utilizing technology especially within education," said Sydewayz owner Yakpasua Zazaboi.

But the program does not end with simply giving out computers.

The Oakland Reach is also launching five weeks of online summer school taught by Oakland teachers.

"Many of our kids lost critical learning over the past three months," said Young. "We are going to work our hardest this summer to really really get our kids on track."

Getting back on track is exactly what one mother there wants, especially for one of her kids who seemed to backslide when the schools closed.

"It took away his confidence. Whereas he was really confident in reading, with him not being able to connect with his teachers and his friends, it took away from his confidence," said Murida McGee.

The hope is the students will regain some of what COVID-19 took when the classrooms all closed, and prepare them for the coming school year, whatever challenges that may bring.