Tackling inequities in technology

As we enter the month of April, the staff at AVANCE-Austin can’t help but reflect on an entire year of virtual learning and remote living. When schools closed in March of 2020, staff had to quickly transition from in-person programming to a virtual model through the creation of “AVANCE Sobre Ruedas” (AVANCE on-wheels), thanks to the leading support of both Stephanie De Leon, Development and Communications Manager and Maggie Aguas, Program Manager. 

What began as an easy-access webpage on the AVANCE-Austin website, with teacher-curated educational videos and supplemental materials, has transitioned into a live, interactive, virtual Parent-Child Education Program.

“It’s been a tough year and we had to make many changes regarding how families access programming,” said Stephanie.

Over the summer of 2020, Zoom was incorporated into the literacy and nutrition program. The program was a success with more families reached than in previous years. But with virtual home visits and assessments made by professional AVANCE-Austin parenting educators and home visitors, we found that 95% of the parents served were accessing the program through the use of their cell phones, on small screens and with limited data plans.

“Zoom became a widely used program for city-wide agencies, including local doctors’ offices and schools after the COVID-19 pandemic left marginalized populations at risk of serious complications and even death. Online virtual meetings were a way to keep our community safe but not everyone had adequate access,” said Stephanie.

That same summer, Stephanie joined 10 other NTEN fellows in learning, sharing, designing, implementing, and challenging herself to become a digital inclusion expert who could transform our community. NTEN and Google Fiber supported her efforts, and all the emerging leaders, in building robust digital literacy programming.

As an NTEN fellow, Stephanie continued to provide leadership and knowledge on how best to support our Latinx community within technology and digital access by successfully attaining funding to purchase brand new Samung Galaxy touch-screen tablets with internet connectivity from AT&T for 238 parents of young children to receive at no cost through the Parent-Child Education Program. 

Virtual classes, carried out in Spanish, not only provided our clients with access to the internet but also provided over 900 training hours of basic digital skills on how to operate the devices, navigate the internet, use zoom, apply for Austin Community College English as a Second Language classes, and other workforce development opportunities.

Additionally, the classes provided an incredible opportunity to bring diverse communities together. Stephanie created a new volunteer digital navigator program and recruited new private sector volunteers to help support the students in further navigating their devices through a help-line. Read about one of the volunteers here.

Throughout the year, Stephanie has supported AVANCE-Austin program staff through digital literacy trainings to help ease the transition of in-person to remote teaching and working. Educators that were previously teaching hands-on, in-person became digital professionals to teach classes, host virtual meetings, and report regularly.

Together, the entire team at AVANCE-Austin will continue to make efforts in bridging the technology divide among the Latinx population in our community through the three-legged stool of inclusion with access to devices, the internet, and digital literacy.