Digital Literacy
June 7, 2024

The Evolution of Digital Equity – Southwest Organizing Project

In 2020, the pandemic shook the foundation of communities around the world. During this time, daily life shifted to a remote standard that allowed people to continue to do their job and schooling from home. With the loss of jobs that could not be remote, community members found themselves struggling in many ways. One of these was the ability to pay for their internet service, which for many was not deemed a necessity among other priorities like healthcare, rent, food, etc. Internet connectivity became one of the top issues in Southwest Chicago communities.

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) was one of many community-based organizations selected by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to inform families of their eligibility for a groundbreaking program. The program, Chicago Connected, provided no-cost, high-speed internet service to CPS students and their families. This first-of-its-kind program is one of the largest efforts by any city to provide internet access for students.

During SWOP’s outreach, two key issues were made apparent. First, there was a lack of trust between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the families that were eligible for Chicago Connected. Secondly, parents did not have the technological skills to support their children during e-learning; a language barrier in the content and communication they were being provided was another huge factor. Being a trusted pillar in the community, SWOP’s communication with parents helped solve the first issue. To tackle the second issue, SWOP started offering digital learning classes in English and Spanish to build parents technical skills.

With most eligible families receiving no cost internet, the focus shifted from signing up families to providing hands-on training to build their digital capacity. These training courses provide easily accessible information and allow community members the chance to earn certifications in Basic Computer Skills, Internet Basics, Email, with the option of including the Microsoft & Google Suites.

In 2023, SWOP and CPS wrapped up the program, but Chicago Connected set the foundation for SWOP’s digital literacy initiatives. In the summer of 2023, SWOP promoted the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which provided a $30 subsidy for internet to families who applied and were approved through a federal website, though enrollment ended in February 2024.

When asked about her experience as a Digital Equity Organizer, Imaltzin Astorga had this to share. “I am very inspired by the commitment of the parents we teach, and the program has evolved in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first came on to this work.” She continued. “I want to continue to build out our curriculum to expand our offerings. To

see that internet disparities are being taken seriously and that there are steps being taken to solve the challenges our communities face fills me with anticipation of what we can accomplish.” To date, SWOP community members have logged over 1,700 hours on NorthStar Digital Learning with over 500 certificates earned. Though SWOP’s digital equity work has taken many strides in its infancy, SWOP and their organizers have shown that there is so much more growth to come.

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