Alumna Addresses Digital Divide in Her Community

by | Nov 10, 2020 | Alumni Profiles, Technology

When Lorena Chavez ’07 was a student at UC Davis, she attended a meeting about Teach for America, setting off on a path for a career in education.

“I remember thinking the one thing I will never do is teach,” said Chavez, who double majored in international relations and sociology. “Never say never!”

For Chavez, returning to the East San Jose community where she was raised was important. She became a math and science teacher in Santa Clara County, later taking on the principal role at the age of 27. She also holds a master’s degree in education.

Lorena Chavez with husband Jose, son Aaron and daughter Camila. Chavez’s children attend school in a feeder district to East Side Union High School District, where she is a trustee. (Courtesy)

She is now managing director at Teach for America and a trustee for East Side Union High School District, a position she won by election in 2018. The district administers 19 high schools, with about 22,000 high school students. Seven feeder districts — of elementary and middle schools — bring the total number of students in the area to about 80,000.

As a trustee, Chavez is focused on the needs of students in the district. And since the pandemic started, one need has risen to the top: digital equity.

In Santa Clara County, about 15,000 families lack internet connectivity at home. With her fellow trustees, Chavez helped found the Digital Equity Coalition to identify emergency solutions and long-term needs. The group was instrumental in getting $7.1 million in funding from Santa Clara County and $3 million from the city of San Jose.

They’ve already connected one community, with another planned for December. Three to five more are slated for the new year.

“This is a heavy lift for all parties involved, but it’s way overdue,” said Chavez. “It’s unfortunate it’s taken a pandemic for everyone to really notice at a different level.”

And Chavez still remembers the informational meeting back at UC Davis. As a first-generation college student, she credited her high school teachers with helping her to achieve her higher education goals.

“I knew this was the place I needed to be,” Chavez said. “It was so important for the kids to see somebody who looked like them, who understood their experience.”