Learning and Growing Together

HCCLF helps entire families understand virtual-learning platforms

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In the spring of 2020, as cases of COVID-19 swept through the region, school campuses promptly shut down to protect the safety of students, faculty and their families. Classes – along with lectures, exams, homework and everything that comes with them – continued via virtual learning. Students connected with teachers and classmates by logging onto Zoom and other online platforms. They sat in front of a computer for several hours a day, navigating the internet and manipulating software that many parents have never heard of.

But when kids needed help with homework and technical difficulties, caretakers were put to the test – especially Spanish-speaking parents who had to face an added language barrier before they could even help their children with their curriculum. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana Foundation (HCCLF) and the Jefferson Parish School System (JPSS) took notice.

The organizations partnered to create a basic computer program for literacy and technical assistance, with classes covering fundamental computer programs and functions meant to benefit adult students in more ways than one.

“We really wanted to make sure that our parents got some technology literacy skills that will help parents assist their kids in their education, but then also provide technology skills that they can apply to other aspects of their lives,” says James Gray, JPSS superintendent.

Longtime HCCL partner Cox Communications provided laptops, HCCLF recruited participants and distributed information to the Hispanic community, and members of the JPSS staff conducted the classes. A total of six sessions were held on both the East Bank and the West Bank of metro New Orleans.

“We wanted to provide flexibility for our parents in terms of location, and try to make it as easy as we possibly can,” Gray says. “One of the barriers that we know is: getting to these locations on time. And so, we want to make them in the afternoons, on both sides of the river, to make sure that we can accommodate parents.”

According to Gray and Angelica Rivera, HCCLF Chair, parents were eager to participate and were excited to see their unique needs being addressed by community organizations.

“We got really good feedback from that program, and it’s something that we plan to keep doing in the future,” Rivera says.

While it operates as an extension of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana, which focuses on high-level economic development initiatives, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana Foundation targets its efforts on language development, digital literacy and other soft skills that, for many Hispanic professionals, might stand in the way of opportunities.

The partnership with JPSS to create the basic computer program for literacy and technical assistance is just one of many such initiatives and partnerships. HCCLF and Delgado Community College also teamed up to offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes that helped students to improve their English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

The Foundation also offers Entrepreneurship Training Courses, with seminars covering topics related to business management, in addition to a robust Bilingual Workforce Training & Business Development Program for Hispanic individuals searching for lucrative, meaningful employment.

Connectivity and fair access is always top priority for HCCLF, and Rivera says they make their services available for basic tasks like filling out applications to higher level professional needs like preparing for an interview, finding resources to launch their business or maintaining efficiency while on the job.

“We teach people how to access the computer and basic programs so they can get up to date with the technology,” Rivera says. “We help people work on their résumé in order for them to find good employment, we help small companies with some technical assistance, and we also offer workshops to help them grow and go to the next level.”

Technology and digital literacy is woven throughout most of HCCLF’s programs, with much of this programming conducted in partnership with tech organizations including Cox, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and UnidosUS, who Rivera calls “really good partners.”

But because of its importance in everyday life, digital literacy is also the basis of an entire course launched by HCCLF and Verizon last year. Prior to the pandemic, lessons were held at learning centers equipped with mobile technologies and professional software, and the classes pivoted to a virtual format when safety mandates halted in-person lessons. For those without computers at home, HCCLF and Cox’s Computer Loan Program made it easy for students to continue learning.

The Foundation plans to continue its work by building on what they’ve already established, and that includes maintaining partnerships like the one with JPSS.

“We hope to expand our bilingual programming to include STEM education for youth, develop additional workforce development courses, continue our digital literacy courses to improve lives, and build partnerships with agencies, both public and private, to ensure we have access to the most important information,” Rivera says.

Gray echoes this sentiment for JPSS. He describes the 2020 program as “Level One,” noting that he hopes to add levels so adult students can broaden their computer skills, and ultimately further their professional careers.

“The goal is to build opportunities for parents of our students, and to give them the skills that will make them more employable,” Gray says. “Our kids will see their parents become more successful.”

Rivera says that because the program was successful during a pandemic, when they were forced to operate under unusual circumstances, the initiative has incredible potential in future iterations. The same is true for HCCLF’s digital literacy and small business development programs, which will help Hispanic professionals get even closer to the economic opportunities as the region recovers from the pandemic.

“We feel really proud,” Rivera says. “We’re always looking for new partners and new ideas to help us serve the community in new ways and meet their needs. That’s always been our goal.”