San Antonio’s tech leaders came together Tuesday evening to raise thousands of dollars for San Antonio Independent School District students lacking internet access amid the coronavirus-induced school closures.

Spearheaded by Tech Bloc, a local tech advocacy group, the livestreamed town hall and fundraiser surpassed its original goal of $25,000 to raise more than $37,500 – which will supply 150 SAISD families with internet access for 10 months, said David Heard, Tech Bloc CEO. 

With an overall student population that is 90 percent economically disadvantaged, SAISD is one of the hardest-hit districts in the city by the digital divide – the gap between those who have internet access and those who do not. In San Antonio, roughly one in four residents lacks a high-speed internet connection at home. 

The event took several weeks of collaborating, Heard said, and helped bring the tech community back together during this time of social distancing – for a good cause.

“We got a lot of great feedback about the event, both on- and offline that was very gratifying,” Heard said. “We are very excited we surpassed our fundraising goal.”

More than 220 people tuned into the two-hour Facebook Live event, which hosted 10 different speakers touching on how San Antonio’s tech sector has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A live link for viewers to donate to the SAISD Foundation was posted to the video’s comments, with Heard and other members of Tech Bloc encouraging viewers to donate throughout the event. 

Hosted by Heard, the event opened with a discussion with Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Prior to the start of the event, Tech Bloc co-founder Lew Moorman agreed to match up to $12,500 in donations to the SAISD Foundation. That goal was reached about an hour into the livestream. Halfway through the event, Rackspace co-founder Dirk Elmendorf agreed to match an additional $6,000. 

“We want to say thank you to everyone who donated today,” Heard said. “And if you haven’t, it’s not too late; every $25 donated gives a family one month of internet access.” 

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez stressed while efforts are being made to help bridge the digital divide during the pandemic, the district would like to continue to help economically disadvantaged families get internet access once businesses open again. 

While the district had planned to spend the next three years implementing strategies to close the divide within its borders, officials have had to implement these plans within three weeks, as the schools shifted to distance learning, Martinez said.

“And even moving forward we may see more of a blended model with students learning in class and online,” Martinez said. 

Every $250 donated provides internet to a family for 10 months – the length of a school year, Martinez said. 

Interested persons can donate to the SAISD Foundation here

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.