A South Side auto manufacturer is helping schools bridge the digital divide, especially since many districts are struggling to keep learners engaged online during the pandemic.
During a recent virtual presentation, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas announced a $500,000 donation to Southside, Harlandale, South San, Southwest, East Central and Somerset independent school districts.
“It was apparent that our local students were faced with disadvantages, being victims of the digital divide,” said TMMTX President Kevin Voelkel. “This problem has exposed deeper issues that are a barrier to education.”
The contribution is based on each district’s technological needs and infrastructure.
Officials said the six school systems and their combined 56,000-plus pupils will benefit from the gift by improving web connections, acquiring virtual education software, plus buying and providing more Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile devices, such as Chromebooks.
The Japan-based automaker, which employs nearly 3,000 workers building Tundra and Tacoma pickups at its South Side plant, is partnering with Toyota USA Foundation to address disparities in various U.S. school systems.
COVID-19’s spread has disrupted society in many ways, Voelkel said. To control its proliferation, area schools have emptied classrooms at primary and secondary campuses and turned to virtual instruction, or gone to limited in-person attendance.
However, 1 in 4 households on the South, East and West sides have no internet access, according to Digital Inclusion Alliance-San Antonio.
DIA-SA also notes a large percentage without digital service, or with spotty access, are those inside Loop 410.
About 70% of the population in each school district receiving financial support from Toyota is economically disadvantaged.
Voelkel said no one’s residence or income should determine whether they can participate in school and be successful there.
Samantha Arroyo, a Losoya Middle School eighth-grader in Southside ISD, said her school district did everything possible to survey and ensure all families owned at least one home computer and had internet access.
School systems all over sought to provide students with off-campus devices they could use for virtual lessons.
“But, many of my friends and family members did not have computers at home, so going to the school real fast to pick (up a device) helped out,” she said during the presentation.
Voelkel highlighted SISD’s efforts at maintaining online education, including the district collaborating with area restaurants to use their Wi-Fi access.
Southside ISD received $100,000 from Toyota, the second biggest amount behind Somerset’s $200,000.
“(Toyota) didn’t do something popular, like by going to a bigger district. Instead, they saw a school district that has a lot of needs with connectivity,” Southside Superintendent Rolando Ramirez said.
“For (Toyota) to take that into consideration and to be able to provide what they’re doing, we’re ecstatic. It means so much to our community and it’s really going to help our school district,” he added.
Harlandale ISD Superintendent Gerardo Soto said his institutions have bolstered their digital capabilities by putting Wi-Fi availability in school buses and in more buildings. HISD also increased orders for hot spots and mobile devices.
“A majority of our kids come from a lower socioeconomic status, but our families understand the importance of education, so they would sacrifice and buy devices for our students,” Soto added.