Overcoming Digital Inequity: Ready to Rise/Act Six & Yakima Valley Community Foundation

22 Dec, 2020

How to Resource the Transition from High School to College

By  Amber Ortiz-Diaz, Yakima Valley Director, Ready to Rise and Act Six, and Lindsay Boswell, Director, Grants & Community Impact  for Yakima Valley Community Foundation

Ready to Rise/Act Six provides students with resources needed for them to achieve their leadership potential – specifically, in the critical transition between high school and college, when many students (particularly first generation) face significant barriers to digital access. Supported by the Yakima Valley Community Foundation – an All In WA partner – and located in Central Washington, both Ready to Rise/Act Six and YVCF are tackling the digital barriers that COVID-19 has exacerbated for students. 

What are some of the ways that Ready to Rise/Act Six is preparing Washington’s next generation of leaders through education?

Students in the Yakima Valley are smart, tenacious, and important contributing members of their families and communities. The Ready to Rise and Act Six programs build upon those skills that students have when they enter higher education settings to ensure that these students are able to serve as community leaders as they earn their post-secondary credentials. 

These programs utilize a cohort model to support and inspire students to graduate from college and to fill leadership roles in their home communities. Students are identified in a rigorous selection process; trained and prepared to adapt to college level learning; and in the Act Six program are resourced with a full tuition scholarship. 

Describe how Yakima Valley Community Foundation is supporting Ready to Rise/Act Six programs.

The Yakima Valley Community Foundation (YVCF) is the local affiliate for these two amazing programs. YVCF exists to provide resources to communities in the Yakima Valley so that our communities thrive. Investing in students is critically important for establishing a representative leadership network for the Valley. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your students in Yakima Valley?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts for our students and their families. This included everything from navigating a remote learning format both in school and in the programming offered by Act Six/Ready to Rise to trying to create rapport in a newly established cohort without any in person team building activities. 

Many of our students also experienced significant disruptions in how they support their families. For some students, this meant loss of income or employment altogether. For others, it meant a significant increase in employment as essential workers. Both scenarios put pressure on already fragile budget ecosystems that rely on each household member to contribute. Students also stepped in as teachers for younger families members, even while navigating their own learning. 

For those students and families who don’t meet the requirements for federal relief funds, financial assistance was difficult if not impossible to secure in the early stages of the pandemic. While there are now more resources available now, the need is still profound and unmet.  

How have high school seniors in your region been uniquely affected by digital inequities? What have you done to address the concerns?

For the transition from high school to college, the pandemic was and continues to be disruptive. Technology access that was provided by the student’s high schools evaporated over the summer before access through college enrollment was available. This left many students without critical access points during a time when outreach, resources, enrollment, and services financial aid were moving to an all online format. 

Recognizing the gap in access, we quickly purchased a set of loaner laptops. While this helped some, the lack of internet access was equally problematic, compounded by the expense of and lack of availability of items like wifi hotspots. We simultaneously changed our outreach strategies, which previously relied on in-person recruiting and relationship-building, and now had to exist as phone, text, or social media outreach. Given that some parents are not as savvy in these platforms as their students are, this can make it challenging to build rapport with families, which is a critical piece of our recruitment strategy. 

Once fall arrived and school was back in session, a new set of challenges emerged. Campus closures and reduced availability of technology resources and remote access to campus staff was challenging for students. Being on campus builds familiarity that boosts confidence for first-generation students to seek out additional assistance; navigating a website to find the right contact person is not the same as dropping into a student center staffed by friendly faces.

Computer access is also only one piece of technology needed for academic success. Wifi access at home, wireless keyboards, cameras and microphones, and a dedicated quiet space to work are all additional pieces that can make or break a college student’s academic success. There are also parts of the Yakima Valley where internet access is simply not available or is at such slow speeds that it can’t keep up with classroom demands. 

How can donations to All In WA’s Digital Equity Initiative help support these programs?

The pandemic has moved all resources online or to virtual formats. Internet access around the Yakima Valley is inconsistent and not always readily available. Funds to support mobile hotspots or wifi access are critical for our students to stay connected not only to classes, but to many other important resources for their families like health care, employment options or other resources that require online enrollment. 

Discretionary income to support these kinds of personal technology infrastructure are often not available to students here; providing this kind of patient, flexible resource can make all the difference. 


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