The disconnect between some residents and access to the wealth of lucrative local technology careers makes Redwood City an epicenter of the digital divide in San Mateo County.
To close that gap, Redwood City Elementary School District officials and technology experts collaborated during a weekend workshop focused on building student skills for meeting modern job market demands.
The event at the district’s McKinley Institute of Technology, Sunday, May 6, served as a professional development opportunity for teachers to share success stories and develop strategies for bridging the gulf between the classroom and the homes of underprivileged students, said coordinators.
It also granted educators a chance to pick the brains of industry professionals for detailed perspectives on the abilities they are seeking from prospective future employees, said Karyn Warner, a district official focused on integrating technology into the classroom.
“They want us in Redwood City to be giving experiences to these students, as they go through school and finish their formal studies and begin looking for a job, to have the skills to stay in Redwood City and have the skills businesses are looking to hire,” said Warner.
Experts also encouraged teachers to offer lessons on the value of accepting failure and critique when learning, as such abilities are increasingly sought by employers.
Though the jobs available now are unlikely to remain when elementary students enter a future job market, Warner said employers believe certain sets of talent will endure.
“If you can help kids with some soft skills, no matter what jobs are available, as long as kids are getting access to the information they need, that will help them no matter what path they take,” said Warner.
Warner’s colleague Cathy James said the district has already made some headway in preparing future technology workers, as a program offering students without home computers access to mobile devices is paying great dividends.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic foundation established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, made it possible for McKinley students to take home Chromebook laptops.
The program has been effective not only in meeting its primary goal of enhancing student literacy, but also boosting the ability of parents to play a greater role in their children’s education, said James.
Parents can also take classes at the school better preparing them to help with their students’ homework, keep closer tabs on their kids’ grades by checking online and use some of the computer programs, she said.
Parent education class enrollment has grown substantially recently, said James, but there is more work to be done to spread that initiative across the district.
“We are trying to move forward with more of that parent and school to home connection,” she said.
But opportunity inequity remains a challenge facing the district, said James, as some schools serve communities with greater means to fund enrichment programs while others in poorer areas can seek grants and partnerships to backfill the funding void left by the district’s limited budget.
Schools with more mixed demographics though are feeling the squeeze of insufficient community support to take on creative initiatives while also not qualifying for assistance opportunities.
“The struggle we are still facing is equity and how do we provide the best situation for all our students,” she said.
The issue could be addressed through building partnerships with local organizations committed to developing skills among Redwood City students eventually seeking jobs in the technology market, said Warner.
Representatives from the San Mateo County Office of Education, Stanford University, the Redwood City Public Library and Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization linking educators, technology developers and researchers, were among some of the other workshop participants.
Many of the discussion panels were led by district teachers before an audience of experts as part of the effort to build a connection between the classroom and the community, said James.
Officials are hopeful the relationships established over the weekend will lead to partnerships offering agencies interested in improving local education an opportunity to get more involved, she said.
James said she hoped teacher mentorships or guest lectures and lessons crafted by experts could be among the types of efforts inspired by the workshop.
“We want to give our [teachers] a real audience to discuss these things, and we may have not solved the problems, but we are bringing everyone to the table,” said Warner.
Ultimately, James said the workshop was driven by a desire to bring all those concerned together and improve education for local elementary students.
“We are not just asking them to fund us, but asking if they can partner with us because this is a big problem and it will take a lot of different approaches to leadership and we want as many perspectives as possible,” said Warner.
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