What began as an idea for a Boy Scout Eagle project – which earned Terence Lee a Congressional Award Gold Medal for social service – continues to evolve.
The Los Altos High School junior recently launched EqOpTech, a student-run nonprofit organization that promotes equal opportunity learning and STEM education through technology in underserved communities. The company, founded in May, partnered with Khan Academy to present education workshops at Sunday Friends of San Jose, a nonprofit agency that supports low-income families in the community.
Lee’s original project, which he started in 2015 on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, involved collecting used laptops for families who needed them. He gathered more than 90 computers, 15 of which are used for teaching at Sunday Friends.
“The whole experience with Sunday Friends has been very collaborative and supportive,” Lee said. “We continue to build a strong long-term partnership.”
In late August, Lee’s EqOpTech team – consisting primarily of Los Altos High students – rolled out Khan Academy basic programming and math modules for kids at Sunday Friends. The program is relatively structured, according to Lee, but can be tailored to different kids’ needs. Students can track lessons corresponding to their grade levels, advance to higher exercises and review basic skills through the program. During the pilot run, mentors were available to answer questions, discuss results and provide encouragement for the students.
Khan Academy awards points and badges for completing lessons; Sunday Friends decided to incentivize the process and award participants with tickets that can be used to purchase toys and school supplies.
After introduction of his pilot program at Sunday Friends, Lee observed that the kids were amazingly focused and motivated to complete the modules. Now that the technology is accessible, his goal is to foster in the kids a desire to learn. At the next workshop, he said the mentors would provide students with diagnostic tests to identify learning gaps and trends.
Lee decided to expand his initial project after realizing the need to motivate youth from low-income families. To get kids more involved, Lee realized that he needed to make the program accessible in their homes, which he said often have little or no internet connectivity.
The EqOpTech team is exploring the implementation of an offline version: Khan Academy Lite. The downloadable software, provided by partner organization Learning Equality, enables EqOpTech’s team to download selective content for the home-loan laptops.
Lee said his passion has always been to leverage technology to motivate underprivileged kids to do well in school. His company has chartered an EqOpTech Club at Los Altos High with the intent of introducing students to the organization. Students may submit essays to apply for leadership positions in the club as well as at the nonprofit group.
Lee noted that EqOpTech takes pride in the fact that it is a company of the students, by the students and for the students.
“We empower our student leaders with real-company responsibilities and hold them accountable for their performance,” he said. “I have been working with a team of talented student volunteers who (are) really passionate about technology and wanting to give back to the local community.”
EqOpTech aims not only to promote equal opportunity through technology in underserved communities, according to Lee, but also to inspire students’ involvement and provide them with a platform to gain real-world experience and leadership skills.
Santa Rita connection
Lee has set his sights locally at Santa Rita School to help students in need. Students in the Los Altos School District often work collaboratively on project-based learning using tools such as Google Docs and Edmodo.
“This collaborative environment aims at sharpening students’ research and analytical skills as well as teamwork and project management experience expected of them in the real world,” Lee said. “For this reason, it is essential that students have access to laptops both in class and at home.”
To bridge the gap for students who do not have laptops at home, Lee seeks ongoing donations of functioning laptops (Windows or Mac platform) with appropriate power adapters.
“Our goal is to promote equal opportunity learning through technology tools,” he said. “All donated laptops will be redeployed to kids who do not have easy access to online educational content.”
Each laptop will be refurbished to its full functionality and all personal data removed prior to redeployment.
For more information, visit eqoptech.org.
Traci Newell contributed to this report.