Local teens tackle technological illiteracy

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Alice Lee/Special to the Town Crier
Natalie Huang helps a parent during a TechBridgers workshop hosted at the Los Altos High School Latino Summit.

People might assume that technological illiteracy is not a widespread problem in Silicon Valley. However, there are many bilingual parents who don’t know how to access educational tools or use email, making it difficult for them to support their children’s education.

A team of teens formed a club called TechBridgers to address the problem through technology workshops at local schools, with a stated mission of “bridging the technology gap in the community,” according to the club’s website. This past academic year, the team comprised six dually enrolled Los Altos High School and Foothill College students: Isabella Borkovic, Natalie Huang, Nathan Huang, Michelle Zhu, Mikko Salkola and Zachary Chen.

Their work has not gone unnoticed – the team received the Most Impactful Award at Foothill College’s Research and Service Learning Symposium in May.

Founded by dually enrolled student Daniel Lim in 2017, the group initially discovered the problem through free coding classes hosted by another club, Computer Engineers of the Next Generation (CENG), at local elementary schools. Many of the members in TechBridgers were also in CENG.

“A lot of the parents of students in … CENG did not know how to use their schools’ gradebook or even email,” Salkola said.
According to Lim, club members realized many students weren’t showing up to the class, despite sending the parents bilingual email reminders.

“Later, we learned that all the parents had smartphones, but they didn’t use them to check their email because they didn’t know how to do it or they were overwhelmed by the spam mail that flooded their inbox,” he said.

Natalie Huang added, “The school also felt like communication was an issue, so we wanted to help through workshops.”

Hands-on workshops

TechBridgers over the past few years has developed and refined a workshop model to help parents with their technology needs. It is geared specifically to schools with a high Latinx population, such as Mountain View’s Monta Loma and Gabriela Mistral elementary schools.

Each workshop starts with a short presentation, in Spanish and English, with an overview of the tools that will be covered. Afterward, student volunteers meet with parents one-on-one to give them step-by-step instruction on how to check grades, use the school website, sign up for school text messages, use educational resources, access Gmail and use Google Translate.

“It is very important that they can do it on their own again by the end of the workshop, so we are constantly checking for questions and asking them to show us that they are comprehending,” Chen said.

To offer the one-on-one instruction at every workshop, members of TechBridgers recruited several bilingual student volunteers from Los Altos and Mountain View high schools – particularly from the National Honor Society and CENG – with a large percentage of native Spanish speakers and Spanish-language students.

The bilingual nature of the workshops not only supported Spanish-speaking parents, but also the students. For Nathan Huang, he could put Spanish he’s learned in school to use.

“I helped a grandma connect with her grandchild and learn ways to engage with his education,” he said. “She only spoke Spanish, and I remember she told me I could speak it well – this made me feel like my years of Spanish in high school had paid off meaningfully.”

As for non-Spanish speaking volunteers, many look after younger children brought along by the parents so they can focus on the workshop, or assist parents with other language needs.

“I took French, so I am usually pretty useless at the workshops other than giving the English segment of the presentation,” Zhu said. “However, at our Almond workshop, I had the opportunity to help out a mother who only spoke Chinese. She was clearly stressed out by the situation, particularly because the presentation was only offered in English and Spanish. But she was extremely kind and grateful to me for whatever help I tried to offer, which was humbling.”

TechBridgers members have seen firsthand how their workshops have helped parents.

“The parents who attend these workshops are always grateful for our help. Many of these parents did not grow up around technology,” Chen said. Zhu added that she’s observed “how many of these parents didn’t even have Gmail accounts and would’ve had a far more difficult time trying to access their students’ progress and communications without our assistance. I’m sure it has an even more lasting impact in terms of their abilities to keep track of their students throughout their education.”

Although the six TechBridgers members graduated from high school last spring, they are still seeking ways to help technologically disadvantaged parents.

“We’re working on developing online videos and tutorials for parents, because many of them can’t come to our workshops because of busy schedules and work conflicts,” Borkovic said.

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