Digital Equity For the Future
13 May 2020 - Irene Bantigue

Teachers’ Democracy Project (TDP) supports Baltimore City Public School teachers, families and school communities in building just and  sustainable schools. We’ve highlighted TDP’s organizing work in the past, but recently reconnected with Rebecca Yenawine, TDP’s Executive Director, to learn more on how they have since had to reimagine their mission to address the digital divide illuminated by COVID-19.

“It’s an opportunity to create digital equity for the future”

As schools closed in mid-March, TDP’s typical organizing took a back seat. “It threw everything we were working on up in the air,” says Rebecca, TDP’s Executive Director. “How do you engage parents right now when they have so many difficult changes in their lives?”

Amidst the challenges faced is the real challenge of students not having suitable devices, if at all, to continue their education. Many homes across Baltimore also lack internet access, shining a light on the digital divide across the city. Rebecca says that while many students are using  phones, research on academic outcomes affirms that this is not the best way to engage with learning. Students need computers, but they are costly and schools have not given enough out to meet the need. 

Rebecca emphasizes that the need is immediate—TDP has been pooling gently used devices ever since the school district’s closure announcement. Thanks to the support of concerned citizens across the city, they managed to quickly redistribute 87 devices to students. However, as the waitlist grows to 300+ requests, the demand is quickly outpacing available supply.

TDP’s device drive represents a broader movement of community leaders and grassroots organizations rallying around digital access disparities in Baltimore. Rebecca shares that TDP recently joined Baltimore’s Digital Equity Coalition which strives to work on issues of connectivity, access to devices, and digital education. TDP also continues to host weekly podcasts. Right now they are focusing on a multi-city comparison of how districts are handling COVID-19. They also host Thursday Zoom meetings to check in with parents across the city. 

As a parent herself, Rebecca is still concerned that “we might be losing kids.” Not all kids are logging on. “When your home is faced with food insecurity, school may not be the top priority,” While TDP’s device drive has enabled them to serve 130 kids, there are still many more without devices. 

How can you help?

Concerned citizens can email Rebecca at rebecca@tdpbaltimore.org to arrange for device pickup. All devices are welcome as nonfunctional ones can be refurbished.

Rebecca also encourages small businesses and/or organizations with strong wifi to research the mesh network technology. Mesh networks can allow a business to project its signal to homes roughly within a mile radius of their location, allowing for greater wifi access across neighborhoods. “This is a time where lots of folks are working towards expanding digital access,” Rebecca emphasizes. “If COVID-19 passes sooner than later, we may lose sight of it as a necessity—it’s an opportunity to create digital equity for the future.”