Pivoting to online instruction during the pandemic was an adjustment for students everywhere. But for many of those attending classes at Portland Adult Education in Portland, Maine, it proved an insurmountable obstacle. With the help of the nonprofit Friends of Portland Adult Education, students were able to stay connected to critical professional development classes with provided devices and expanded internet access.
Lacking computers at home or reliable internet connections, some students tried to keep up using “borrowed” Wi-Fi and their phones’ small screens; they texted photos of their homework to instructors or sent it through the mail. But almost a third of the 1,200 students who had enrolled in online classes at Portland Adult Education in the spring of 2020 dropped out, mostly because of technical challenges.
Portland Adult Education is now back to offering face-to-face instruction as well as remote learning. With classes in English as a second language, workforce training, high school equivalency and college prep, Portland Adult Education attracts a diverse student body that includes immigrants from 80-plus countries, with the majority hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Somalia. Improving language skills and preparing for college or employment opportunities are ways forward that are threatened by the digital divide.
Friends of Portland Adult Education, which provides support to Portland Adult Education students, has been raising funds to meet their technology needs. With funds including a grant from Bank of America, the nonprofit purchased 170 Chromebooks that Portland Adult Education students can borrow and use with new Wi-Fi hotspots. As students return to the classroom, the computers will be used for a variety of educational purposes, including promoting digital literacy.
By providing access to technology, the Friends of Portland Adult Education is helping this population of immigrants stay in school and move toward the dreams that brought them to the United States in the first place.
This program is part of Bank of America’s five-year, $1.25 billion commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.