Volunteers launch program to address Berkeley school district families’ technological needs

busd launches tech wellness program
Brianna Luna/Staff

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As in-person instruction came to a halt in mid-March, students traded in their textbooks for Chromebooks and no shortage of technological difficulties.

To address the need for distance learning support, Berkeley Schools Volunteers, or BSV, launched a “Tech Wellness Check” team in April after Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, started distributing Chromebooks and hotspots to more than 2,500 families. The program aims to ensure that students who are using district-issued technology have functioning computers and stable internet access, and know how to use the distance learning tools.

“The Tech Wellness volunteers play a vital role in helping students and families maintain their Chromebooks and technology so they are able to access distance learning,” said BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email.

As a volunteer organization, BSV enlists and trains community members to provide technological support and educational supplies to families in need.

As those needs change, the program has adapted based on volunteer and community feedback.

“One great thing about this project is we’ve been agile,” said Cathy Campbell, co-leader of the team. “For example, when the district started distributing hotspots, we reordered our priorities and we put those families as our top families to assign a volunteer.”

Despite having a staff of about 45 volunteers, the program does not yet have the capacity to address all immediate concerns, according to Campbell. She added that families who have specific needs can contact their principals for support.

Although the project was scheduled to end June 12, Berkeley Public Schools Fund, BSV’s parent organization, plans to continue to support families with technology needs over the summer, according to Duffy Ross, director of programs at the Berkeley Public Schools Fund.

Beyond the wellness checks, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund is also providing other resources to assist with distance learning.

After school became virtual, the organization requested computer and laptop donations that it has been refurbishing, Ross added. While most students already have laptops, many of these donations have been distributed to teachers in need.

Three times a week, volunteers help staff the Ed Hub, a BUSD distribution center, for all educational supplies including technology, books and Spanish-speaking support.

It is likely that BUSD will continue with distance learning in the fall. Because of a 10% budget cut and minimal capacity to assist at the district level, the need for volunteers will also persist, according to Campbell.

“The tech needs of families and students are certainly not going to go away over the summer,” Ross said. “They will change shape and they will come back, full-fledged in the fall.”

Contact Veronica Roseborough and Emma Rooholfada at [email protected].