Community Coalition of South LA. (303567)
Community Coalition of South LA. Credit: Community Coalition

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, schools have been closed. Now they are in the process of reopening, however, and the process is different for each school district in Los Angeles County.

The non-profit Community Coalition (CoCo) is involved in improving essential needs, including the assurance that students have a smooth transition to the remote-in person hybrid-model. Executive Vice President Aurea Montes-Rodriguez said children and parents in low-income areas in South LA are struggling the most since they don’t get the support to keep up with technology demands, or get tutoring help.

“What we are hearing from the students and parents that we organized in South Los Angeles is that they are really struggling in the distance-learning context and in a virtual environment,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “They continue to experience challenges with connectivity so even in cases where families have received hotspots, the internet is not always reliable and so there is a very sketchy internet connection, especially if there—are multiple children in the household.

“And then they’re also—depending on the makeup of the family and the ages of the children—still struggling with navigating the programs and the software that students are having to use to connect with, virtually,” she added. “Almost a year into the pandemic, the state of technology for South LA students and families is really inadequate and challenging.”

CoCo works together with other non-profit organizations, such as Brotherhood Crusade in South LA and Innercity Struggle in East LA, to help get technology donations and they organized a hardware drive, where they were able to get 300 Chromebooks, as well as over 100 hotspots with a year subscription.

This is different from the technology that the schools gave to students and parents. The reason CoCo also provided technology is because families had to share Chromebooks between their children, as well as hotspots which resulted in connectivity issues. However, oftentimes families reported that technology was outdated or that it broke and students had to return the equipment.

Families are still experiencing significant challenges with hardware, as well as connecting to school, especially in households with high density. These actions are relatively new for CoCo since it’s not a direct service organization with a history of providing technology.

“We joined forces to raise funding because we were really alarmed by the challenges that the families we organize and work with, were experiencing,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “For us, we have been organizing students and parents to engage the district around their responsibility of addressing the inequity in the digital device gap, so that they can prepare both to support students who will continue to learn virtually and students who will transition to hybrid learning models.”

Since some students may return to school in a hybrid model, they’re also going to need technology at home. Although the district is hyper-focused on re-opening schools, it also continues to fail to address current needs in technology and the loss of learning that the students are experiencing. There are the mental health needs that the district and the schools have not figured out how to address yet.

Also, households with multiple students are facing a tremendous level of responsibility in educating or supporting their younger siblings.

Nevertheless, the County of LA also distributed millions of dollars for technology.

“The federal stimulus funding has included significant support for technology, and Governor Newsom also included funding for technology,” Montes-Rodriguez added. “So part of what students and parents are asking the district—or asking of the district—is that they continue to ensure that they have timely distributions of hardware and that they also do better at not just having the hotline – but that they have a timely response to addressing the problem that students and families report. And that they’re able to deploy people who can go to students’ homes and help them troubleshoot whatever the issue is.”

The district has announced that they have had some hardware replaced, however, the parents and students that CoCo has organized continue to experience challenges accessing those resources. They are concerned the district is too focused on students’ academic achievement, dismissing the facts of the ongoing pandemic and expecting that students perform up to grade level.

“That’s really overwhelming for students and parents because there’s a failure to recognize that families have been struggling, that families have been left behind, communities like South LA,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “When we’re talking about distance learning, families that live in South Los Angeles are a part of the ground zero of the pandemic, so to expect that students are gonna be able to be ready to take a standardized test and do well, those are not conversations that are front and center for the families that we work with.”

Families are more concerned about how the district will continue to address the loss of learning that students are experiencing, as well as the social-emotional challenges due to isolation, depression, and lack of motivation—not how students will perform on the standardized testing.

CoCo is supporting a small number of families who depend on Distance Learning Pods models to help their children. However, even with the small financial investment that CoCo is making into families to give them the opportunity to have their children participate in Distance Learning Pods, some say they don’t feel safe having their children participate. Therefore, CoCo partnered with the Crenshaw YMCA so that families, who want to receive support like targeted tutoring and academic intervention, can receive it there. CoCo is one of the only non-profits that is helping a high number of families in South LA with the technology used for distance learning.

“I think our organization is really invested in addressing the social-emotional needs of families and ensuring that the schools in the district are hearing their request for support on the loss of learning time, not focusing on test preparations,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “We became first responders, or frontline organizations in really stepping up for the families who, in many cases, are essential workers, or essential families, to support them because they have been disproportionately hit by this pandemic.”

Many families also depend on their older children to contribute to household income, and therefore students who also have part-time jobs have difficulties concentrating on schoolwork after a long day of work.

“I think that’s really important to highlight because this is coming at a high cost for students and families in communities like South LA,” Montes-Rodriguez said.