Adam Kintish, VP M&T Bank Larchmont, presents grant award for Digital Equity Now to Margaret Käufer, President of the STEM Alliance. Photo Credit: M&T Bank, 2020
With a major gift from the Gloria and Richard Kushel Foundation, the STEM Alliance launched a new Westchester County initiative: Digital Equity Now - a program that provides a device, a hot spot WiFi package and fifteen hours of tech education to low income residents in Westchester. The shift to online learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic created challenges for students, parents and teachers across the country. It has also laid bare a digital divide which experts predict will cause significant learning loss for low income students. The STEM Alliance’s Digital Equity Now program bridges this digital divide for those living in poverty and the Kushel grant accelerated that work in Mamaroneck by serving 225 children with an initial distribution through the Mamaroneck School District’s Co-Op Summer Enrichment program.
Low income Westchester residents without an internet linked device and/or internet access are less able to participate in our digitally-driven economy. Whether for online banking, applying for a job, enrolling in healthcare or taking classes, our lives run on technology and this dependence has been further amplified by social distancing practices. Economically fragile community members - primarily black and Hispanic residents - are being sidelined in ways that directly impact their ability to break free from the cycle of poverty.
In Westchester County, the statistics for children living in poverty are alarming: 12.8% overall with 23.3% of these being black and 24.5% Hispanic. (Westchester Children’s Association, 2016 Children by the Numbers) Non-English speakers make up 34.6% of Westchester County residents (higher than the national average of 21.9%) and are less likely to have digital fluency skills.
President of the STEM Alliance, Margaret Käufer, speaks passionately about the problem. “Improving the conditions of people living in poverty must include addressing digital inequality. Our mission is to end the digital divide because equity creates opportunity.”
M & T Bank joined the sponsor list with a $5,000 grant to help the STEM Alliance distribute an additional 100 devices by the end of 2020. Adam Kintish, VP M&T Bank, Larchmont stated, “M&T Bank shares Digital Equity Now’s commitment to providing Internet access and technological support to underserved children and communities, especially during these challenging times. We’re proud to work with the STEM Alliance to bring access to all within Westchester County and beyond.”
To implement this work, the STEM Alliance is leveraging relationships with partner organizations across the County including The Guidance Center, the Carver Center and Community Resource Center. This community based distribution model allows for broad outreach and impact. VP of Programs, Antonella Kauffman explained the model as follows, “We provide a digital skills curriculum, the devices and the teacher training, while our partners provide an educator at their site, participant enrollment and on-going support for their specific community members.” With additional financial support, the STEM Alliance seeks to meet their new goal of serving 325 clients by the end of 2020 and to grow the program to serve as many as 2,500 clients by 2024.
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