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Booting Up A More “Tech”uitable Pittsburgh

Community Forge (1)

Laptops and smartphones from Brother’s Brother Foundation are helping students in economically disadvantaged communities learn the skills they need to enter a job market fueled by digital literacy.

The Steel City is transforming into a tech town as more companies choose Pittsburgh for their headquarters. But today’s youth will need modern technology skills if they want to work at companies like the language app Duolingo or spacecraft-builder Astrobotic.

“The dexterity to just drag a file [across the screen] literally brought this girl to tears, it was so difficult for her,” Patrick Cooper says, recalling a student he taught through the tech literacy program Building Our Own Technology Uplifting the People, Pittsburgh (BootUp PGH). “There are just things like that you would never even think about as being a barrier, that if no one was there to help her work through that in a safe environment and in an encouraging environment, she could just all of a sudden be like ‘I can’t even do the most basic thing…I should just avoid technology [and] careers that have to do with technology.’”

Cooper is a Co-Founder and Board Member of Locally Grown, a nonprofit organization that oversees Community Forge, an incubator for local businesses in Wilkinsburg, a borough adjacent to Pittsburgh. Community Forge also serves the Wilkinsburg and Greater Pittsburgh communities by implementing educational programs such as BootUP PGH, which counteracts Pittsburgh’s digital divide by putting technology into the hands of Pittsburgh’s youth, specifically those in economically disadvantaged communities who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them.

In July, Brother’s Brother Foundation provided BootUp PGH with a donation of 100 Dell laptops and 113 smartphones, in addition to webcams and chargers. The devices will be used to teach local children the skills they need to enter a professional setting after high school.

Amil Cook is the director of technology curriculum and programs at Locally Grown and has taught technology at the high school level for more than 10 years. He says that, for today’s graduates, “the expectation is that Windows is second nature,” but many don’t have access to Windows operating systems in schools that opt for the more affordable option of Chromebooks.

“During the pandemic, a lot of schools will say they have a one-to-one relationship with devices to kids, but they’re giving them a Chromebook, which is a glorified web browser. They’re not learning file systems, they’re not understanding the back end of how to install a program,” he says. “Having these Windows devices, it opens up our community to a whole new professional class of apps and services that are essential for them to procure employment, advance their entrepreneurial goals, and basically function in modern society.”

BootUp PGH partners with Pittsburgh Public Schools to bring technology devices into classrooms and teach students how to use them—a facet of their program made possible through a donation of 110 iPads from BBF in the spring of 2022. The donation, received shortly after BootUP PGH was launched, enabled Cook and Cooper to teach students how to use iPads in two classrooms simultaneously, which Cook says “enhanced and amplified what we could do programmatically.”

“It’s been a powerful, powerful donation,” he says.