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Stories from the front lines: Henry Velasquez, Youth Education Manager

August 12, 2021

Henry Velasquez, Youth Education Manager

When schools first went to remote teaching, Henry Velasquez, UP! Youth Education Manager, worked with a student who had no internet access and as a result, was completely disconnected from teachers, classes, and assignments. One year later, Henry reports that based on the persistence of the student, and with support from UP! staff, the student is on track.  

Adapting to the moment, UP! staff created a new open tutoring program designed to empower students and build community. “Many students would stay online to talk and hang out even after completing work because it was the only space they had to connect with other students their age. To further support students, our team also hosted virtual game and movie nights, to help bring some sense of normalcy back to students’ lives.”  By spring, the pilot program included in-person options, especially helpful for students with noisy households and unstable internet connections.  

The digital divide in the Canal neighborhood is alarmingly wide and a WiFi mesh network was needed to connect over 2,000 students to online learning. The student that Henry first helped reconnect, for instance, was challenged with an array of tech issues and needed ongoing support submitting her assignments and completing courses.  The school provided a hotspot and Henry dropped off a loaner laptop and fixed the device. “I could tell how stressed she was, not being able to attend her classes and falling behind.  

“These students often don’t know who else to go to for help, and whether they should ask the school, so a lot of questions come to us at Canal Alliance. We check in with students every week to see how things are going. We try to find a spark that they have and build on that. It’s good for them to have this type of support outside of their families.” 

Henry was responsive not just to the needs of UP! students, but also to their parents, continuing to offer online parent nights, and even responding to texts from parents after work hours. Parents have direct access to Henry and know that they can rely on him and the rest of the UP! team. With parents’ engagement, staff can better help students stay on a path to long-term success. 

Students enrolled in UP! did well by all measures, and overall, achieved an impressive 98% class attendance record last school year. Those students who missed sessions were often struggling with internet and connection issues, even with the wi-fi provided in the Canal neighborhood. 

“It’s definitely been a difficult year for all of us”, says Henry, “but our students and their families continued on. None of them just dropped out. None of them stopped going to classes. They continued pushing forward, even online.”

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