At the onset of COVID-19 related school closures across New York City, thousands of educators and students were faced with the difficult task of transitioning from in-person lessons to virtual classrooms. For some students, technology and internet service were easily found at home. But many others lacked the personal devices and Wi-Fi access that had suddenly become instrumental to continuing the school year.
“Students couldn’t log in to classes, and were trying to use their cell phones. Imagine trying to do six different classes from your cell phone.”
Julia Kaminsky, a Mission Society Advocate Counselor who works with our high school students, had serious concerns that the young people in our program would be unable to attend class. Remote learning began on March 23rd, but the government-provided technology that schools were promised would not arrive until April 6th.
The event of COVID was already widening the gap even further between students, leaving young people who were lacking crucial resources, facing job loss, and weathering additional inequities in their communities with nothing but more uncertainty.
Julia knew that missing a few days of classes would be detrimental – but missing several weeks would mean that it would be almost impossible for students to catch up. She decided to take action, turning to her network to source laptops and iPads. She posted on social media, in alumni and mutual aid groups, and anywhere she could think of that might generate a response. She was surprised to see offers for donations and loaned devices pouring in, many times from individuals she hadn’t even met.
The aid came from women like Iris Lin, who saw Julia's story and was inspired to reach out to her own network. Iris ultimately collected and delivered eight devices. Knowing that deliveries could not be made on public transit, an individual named Janani Balasubramanian volunteered to ride their bike sixteen miles from Queens to Brooklyn to hand out computers.
“I found it very moving. It showed how people are really coming together to support each other.”
Mission staff has always prioritized and fought for the well-being of our students, and this moment was no different. As we look ahead to an uncertain school year in the fall, we are inspired by these hopeful stories and the Mission Champions that are willing to go above and beyond. Each of them teach us how our community can come together in service of students, in times of crisis and year-round.
The Mission Society would like to take this opportunity to thank Julia Kaminsky, Janani Balasubramanian, Iris Lin, and Jasmine Knowles for helping our students receive the remote learning tools they needed to succeed.