Facebook Grant Upgrades Technology Lab For Everett Middle School Parents

A new computer lab created to help parents of Everett Middle School students become tech-savvy was unveiled on Monday.

Equipped with five desktop computers, high speed internet access, the lab will offer workshops and classes. The lab is funded by Facebook and the League of United Latin America Citizens, a national group that works to empower Latinos socially, economically, and technologically. The group has created similar need-based technology centers in 60 cities.

In the Mission, local advocates and the social media giant are aiming to bring parents up to speed with equipment and basic computer training that will help them digitally communicate and tap into resources online. The project is intended to give parents the tools they need to guide their children in an increasingly technology-driven educational system.

“This particular lab is not so much for the children’s use, it’s for the parents to feel safe and comfortable to explore and learn technology skills while their children are in school,” said Eric Cuentos, director of the Parent Partner Program at Mission Graduates, a nonprofit that works to steer Mission District students towards a college education.

“There’s an urgency and a lot of investment at the middle and high School level to make sure that students are getting access to tech education,” said Cuentos.  “What I’d love to see more of is training and support for the parents, because that’s where you see a potential divide between families in which the parents grew up with access and understanding of technology and those who didn’t.”

The school’s new lab is an extension of Mission Graduates’ technology center at 3040 16th St., which was also funded by the partnership.

“Part of our programming is to bridge the digital divide and help parents get into modern jobs,” said Elizabeth Garcia, the League’s director of national programs. The organization’s partnership with Facebook stems from its Empower Hispanic America with  Technology initiative, which focuses on leveling the playing field for under-served communities in technology.

“Facebook’s goal is to get people online. For us, its about teaching them to get online in a smart way and do more than just entertain themselves, but to get online to advance themselves,” she said.

At Monday’s open house, local advocates and representatives from Facebook said that they hope to see the collaboration create systemic changes at the school level that will ultimately translate into solving the diversity issue within the tech industry.

“Facebook works with local partners to support programs that expose youth to technology,” said Susan Gonzales, Facebook’s community engagement director. “Our goal is to create a long term pipeline of potential future Facebook employees.”

At Everett Middle School,  Principal Lena Van Haren said that a lack of exposure at home and lower computer literacy rates among some parents manifests itself in the classroom, setting some students apart from others.

“Some of our parents at Everett work in tech — they not only have access to it, but are literally at the forefront of technology here in the Bay Area,” said Van Haren. “But at the other end of the spectrum, some of our students come in an don’t have computers at home, and that shows.”

The school’s population is 57 percent Latino, and many families are recent immigrants. Van Haren said that having been underexposed to technology in their home countries, many parents are unable to provide their children the support they need to succeed in a foreign school system in which technology plays an integral role.

“That sets the students back in the classroom, but it also it makes it harder for parents to advocate for their children when some are unsure of how to write a simple email to the teacher,” said Van Haren. Grades and homework are often posted in online forums for schools, and at Everett, Van Haren said that essays are written “100 percent online” using Google Docs.

When Olympia Garcia immigrated from Guatemala eight months ago, the mother of two said that navigating San Francisco’s educational system was one of the challenges she faced.

“The system is so different from where I grew up—I didn’t have access to computers the way that people have here,” said Garcia, adding that she would really heavily on both of her children to help her get connected.

With the guidance of mentors and volunteers at the new lab, parents like Garcia will have access to courses that will teach them basic skills such as creating an email account to learning English online.

“My son is in 12th grade and is applying for colleges. Learning about how to fill out applications on internet will help me support him through the process, instead of the other way around.”

Olga Sanchez, the mother of an 8th grader at Everett, agreed that confidence in using technology can help empower families.

“There’s an opportunity here to not feel so scared to screw something up,” said Sanchez.  “That’s one of barriers that I and many other parents have in supporting our children academically—we feel that when we touch a computer we are going to mess it all up.”

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