With social distancing guidelines in full effect for the foreseeable future, schools across the state have adopted a number of policies in order to ensure students’ safety, with the majority of schools in California currently not holding in-person classes. 

The PWA has facilitated back-to-school drives for Isla Vista Elementary School since 1995. Max Abrams / Daily Nexus

But learning from home has brought new challenges for students of all grade levels and can exacerbate the struggles some students already face, including distractions when there are multiple family members working in the same room, according to Whitney Ater, a chair of UC Santa Barbara’s Professional Women’s Association (PWA).

Since 1995, the PWA has facilitated back-to-school drives for Isla Vista Elementary School, collecting and redistributing donated school supplies for students in need. Now, with safety guidelines over the pandemic, Ater said there was uncertainty over how the drive would function this year.

I.V. Elementary, where two of Ater’s four children currently attend, provided supplies to students before the start of the academic year that would normally be accessible to them at school, such as paper, pens, scissors, crayons and even Chromebooks. But Ater said that doesn’t necessarily cover everything students might need, especially during online learning. 

“Some of the things that are more challenging are finding space for families who are remote learning and working from home, all in homes of different sizes with different amounts of people. I personally have five people in my home every day,” Ater said.

In order to help provide students with the space they need, Ater said the drive turned its attention away from the usual supplies and focused instead on the tools that would help facilitate a remote learning environment — headsets and lap desks.

“[Headsets are] really important to help students listen distraction-free. A lot of times, there’s more than one student or one family member working in the same room. So it’s just really helpful to have those, and those are not something that the school had provided,” Ater explained.

She said the PWA set up an Amazon wish list where people could order headsets and lap desks for donation online, in lieu of having people donate supplies in drop-off boxes around I.V. like in previous years. After receiving the supplies from Amazon, Ater dropped them off at I.V. Elementary where they were distributed to students who needed them.

The drive — which ran from Sept. 4 to Sept. 25 — gathered over 50 headsets and 20 lap desks for students, amounting to more than $1,600 worth of equipment, according to Ater.

One of the drive’s most active supporters was Kundai Chikowero, a senior at Dos Pueblos High School and daughter of Mhoze and Angela Chikowero, an African history associate professor and a research and engagement librarian at UCSB, respectively.

Kundai, who went to I.V. Elementary as a child along with her brothers, said she was motivated to help out when she witnessed firsthand how students were being affected by the pandemic. 

“My brother goes [to I.V. Elementary] and so I couldn’t imagine doing all that work at their age and then especially if you don’t have all the resources that you need,” Kundai said. “I feel like that just makes it a little bit harder on top of all that. And so I saw [the PWA’s] work and was inspired to help them out in the same way.” 

By setting up her own drive through a GoFundMe page with help from her mother, Kundai raised over $600, which she used to purchase a number of supplies such as backpacks, pencils, pens, pencil sharpeners and erasers. 

Ater said the response from donors and the community has been overwhelmingly positive, and she’s grateful for the support going toward I.V. Elementary.

“I think it is something that resonates with our community and especially anyone who is a parent, it resonates with them immediately. They’re like, ‘Yes, of course, the kids need a headset,’ because we’re all working from home,” Ater said with a laugh.

Going forward, Ater said the PWA will be examining other ways to best support the community outside of drives and amplify other projects in motion, such as the Goleta Valley Library’s efforts to collect materials for craft kits to keep children entertained at home.


Arturo Martinez Rivera
Arturo Martinez Rivera is an asst. news editor at the Daily Nexus. He can be reached at arturo@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.