Powering up schools in need, one surprise at a time

Over the past six weeks, Softchoice employees, along with volunteers from Lenovo and VMware, have been visiting underserved schools across North America to surprise students with new classroom technology as part of our Power Up technology grant program. Power Up focuses on breaking down the barriers created by poverty by investing in schools serving low-income communities.

In 2016, our inaugural year, Power Up put technology in the hands of more than 3,000 students. This year, we welcomed another 4,000 students from 10 deserving schools to the Power Up family.

For children living in under-resourced communities, learning to use technology through a quality education is pivotal to breaking the cycle of poverty. Classroom technology fosters a love of learning, builds self-confidence, and develops the problem solving and collaboration skills critical to thrive in the careers of tomorrow.

Beginning in early February, our local teams connected with passionate educators to unveil stacks of laptops, Chromebooks and tablets for unsuspecting students. There were countdowns, dramatic reveals, cheers, high-fives, and spontaneous dance parties. In many schools, we stayed after the festivities concluded to mentor students on the new devices.

By partnering with teachers and administrators who have a strong plan for achieving positive student learning outcomes through technology, we are hopeful that each Power Up school will see improvements in core curriculum subjects (literacy, math, science), 21st-century skills (computer literacy and coding) as well as overall student learning engagement. We also plan to build long-lasting relationships with each school through ongoing school visits and mentoring.

Power Up grants are funded through Softchoice employee donations and program partners, Lenovo and VMware. For the full list of this year’s winning schools, click here. To learn more about Power Up, visit www.softchoice.com/powerup.

Engaging employees across North America on International Women’s Day

Today, fewer than 20% of top leaders across all sectors are women. At Softchoice, we want to change that. For International Women’s Day, our Leading Women Employee Resource Group hosted a virtual discussion panel with female executives for Softchoice employees across North America.

Softchoice Vice Presidents Elysia Estee and Lisa Yu were joined by Carolyn Rollins, General Manager Enterprise Marketing for Canada Post, to talk about their career paths and the challenges they faced along the way, and share recommendations to help others overcome barriers to success.

The conversation covered a wide range of topics key to gender equality in the workplace: pay equity, balancing career progression with children and family, and the importance of mentors and honest feedback to help guide your career journey. Most importantly, we were able to engage employees from 20+ cities in a discussion about how we can work together across borders and genders to create positive change throughout our organization.

When it comes to women in the technology sector, we know that we need to fill the talent funnel by improving how we prepare our female leaders of tomorrow through progressive STEM programs today. It’s incredibly important to put successful female technology leaders in front of young women to inspire and encourage them to pursue technology careers.

At Softchoice, we have a commitment to gender equality as part of our ONEsoftchoice Diversity and Inclusion initiative. In 2018, our focus will be on closing the gender gap by increasing the number of women in leadership roles, expanding our Leading Women mentorship program, producing local events focused on career development for our female employees, and hosting events with local schools to inspire young girls and help them excel in the STEM field. We also plan on continuing our outreach to engage emerging female technology professionals and support their transition to roles in the tech sector.

How do you fight child poverty in the 21st century? One classroom at a time

Fighting Child Poverty One Classroom At A Time

(Students’) success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline.”

Southern Education Fund, “A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools,” 2015.

Today, more than 15 million American children (1-in-5) and one million Canadian children (1-in-6) are growing up poor. For these children, learning to use technology through a quality education is pivotal to breaking the cycle of poverty.

The barriers created by child poverty cut across home life, physical and mental health, education and career prospects. At-risk children typically experience delays in learning preparedness before they begin school and limited access to learning resources, mentors and support networks. To lift a child out of poverty requires a variety of interventions from infancy to adulthood, but we can point to the quality of development during the early years of childhood as a critical foundation for their entire life journey.

So what happens in the classroom matters. A lot.

Introducing young students to digital learning and technology in the classroom produces substantial improvements in their achievement, especially for at-risk students. [i]  According to Kwame Johnson, Executive Director of PowerMyLearning, Atlanta:

“Children living in poverty face significant academic barriers, so exposing them to technology and digital learning resources in school and in the home can be a game changer. Classroom technology fosters a love of learning, builds self-confidence, and develops the problem solving and collaboration skills critical to thriving in the 21st century. You can draw a correlation between a student’s academic success in Grade 4 and what they do later in life. If low-income students are allowed to struggle early on, their chance of graduating high school on time and finding a meaningful career decreases significantly. By engaging them through early experiences with digital learning, the skills they learn will carry on through their entire K-12 experience and help prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.”

While technology is ubiquitous across North America, access to technology is not universal. Underfunding of public schools limits access to learning resources, books and technology.  As a result, schools have come to rely on community and parent fundraising to bridge these funding gaps. This places schools in low-income neighborhoods at a particular disadvantage, since low-income families cannot contribute nearly as much as more affluent communities.

The study “Public System, Private Money” found that over three years, the top 20 primary schools in the Toronto District School Board generated 36 times more dollars through fundraising than the most marginalized 20 schools: $249,362 per school compared to $6,922 per school.[ii] An analysis of the U.S. education system produced by The Education Fund discovered that the highest poverty districts receive $1,200 less per student than the lowest poverty districts—for an elementary school of 500 students, this means a funding gap of $600,000 per year. [iii]

If the road to success is education, the fast lane is paved with 21st century learning. For every child to succeed academically, we need to remove the barriers to accessing technology that prevent children from moving out of poverty.

Fighting child poverty one classroom (and one grant) at a time

At Softchoice, we believe that every child deserves the same opportunity to benefit from high quality digital learning. Our POWER UP program provides technology grants of $10,000 to put students from low income communities on the path to future success.

Grants are available to public elementary and middle schools in Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Toronto and Montreal with demonstrated need and a vision for how technology can unleash the potential of their students.

Apply now or nominate a school in need .

Application deadline is November 11, 2016.

Grant recipients will be announced December 1, 2016.

Softchoice is pleased to partner with Lenovo to deliver POWER UP. Softchoice’s share of the POWER UP grant funds were raised and donated by its employees through Softchoice Cares endeavors.



[i]Using technology to support at-risk youth,” Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, 2014.
[ii]Public System, Private Money: Fees, Fundraising and Equity in the Toronto District School Board,” Social Planning Toronto, 2011.
[iii]  “Funding Gaps 2015: Too Many States Still Spend Less on Educating Students Who Need the Most,” The Education Trust, 2015.