Through the leadership of Paula Wallace, the president of SCAD, disadvantaged students of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System will now have access to 160 computers for use in advancing their learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 9, 2020, Wallace and other SCAD leaders presented the refurbished and updated PC and Macintosh computers to the City of Savannah in support of the R.I.S.E. (Religious Institutions in Support of Education) initiative. The computers will be placed in community centers and churches around Savannah to serve “learning pods” of students and allow them to access virtual learning during the pandemic as the 2020-21 schoolyear gets underway.
Paula Wallace SCAD, shared what motivated this donation. “Many years ago, when I taught in public schools, I had a student I’ll never forget: Isaiah,” she said. “Isaiah didn’t have much he could call his own, but he loved his desk. I wrote his name on his desk and told him, ‘As long as you’re in my class, this desk is yours.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Is it for love?’”
“I was surprised at first, but I thought more about his question,” Wallace continued. “Because I think the desk—the actual physical desk—became a kind of symbol of love for Isaiah, something that connected us, him and me. Objects like a desk or a computer can mean far more to children than we imagine. Sometimes, they need something to hold onto. They need to know that grownups care. SCAD is partnering with R.I.S.E. and the City of Savannah to close a gap, to create equity with technology. SCAD is giving Savannah’s students something they can hold onto, and we’re doing it for love.”
The donation consists of 80 Macs and 80 PCs with updated software and peripherals that include mice, keyboards, and monitors. “SCAD has continued to serve our own students thanks to two powerful assets: our own creativity and our technology,” Wallace said. “We know the students of Savannah’s community schools are creative! And this technology now helps advance that gift and their learning.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was on hand at SCAD’s Jen Library to accept and facilitate the donation, where the computers were loaded into City of Savannah vans. “This gracious gift from SCAD allows us to get technology—state of the art technology—into neighborhoods, into communities, into churches, into mosques, synagogues, houses of faith where young people can access them and use them,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said. He also reiterated that the computers are exactly what SCAD students are using every day in their work. “SCAD truly gave us the very best.”
“At SCAD, we know that access to technology directly affords equity and inclusion,” Wallace said. “As leaders, we unite to overcome any challenges where learners are underserved. I think 2020 has reminded all of us to be prepared for anything. SCAD calls this ‘future-proofing’ our students: teaching them that technology and invention can grant you the ability to adapt and thrive in any circumstance. The gift of these computers is the gift of hope. SCAD is future-proofing Savannah’s students.”
The R.I.S.E. initiative, which has partnered with the City to help students utilize the SCAD computers, includes faith community members from across Savannah: Butler Memorial Presbyterian Church, Connor’s Temple, Fresh Fire From Heaven, Jesus First the Community Church, Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship, Mosaic Church, St. Paul’s CME, and Urban Hope. R.I.S.E. was created in 2020 when religious leaders came together and saw unmet needs in their respective communities, especially among families with young students who lack sufficient technology and learning support to succeed in remote learning.
Wallace has championed community service at SCAD in her 20 years as the university’s president. In 2011, as the Garrison School prepared to open its doors for the new academic year, SCAD sponsored more than $500,000 in building improvements, including new Mac labs, furnishings, artworks, paint, supplies, and library books. Since 2010, the SCAD Buzz Bus has visited dozens of schools in Atlanta and Savannah, delivering donations of supplies, books, and other learning resources to public school educators serving minority populations.
A history of SCAD community service initiatives includes the donation of the Beach Institute in downtown Savannah to serve as a center for African American art, history, and historic preservation, as well as providing free tours for area schoolchildren of the SCAD Museum of Art and a series of free curriculum guides aligned with museum exhibitions and mapped to national learning standards.
“This donation embodies SCAD’s commitment to education, community engagement, and revitalization, a legacy that endures through our years-long partnerships with Savannah schools,” Wallace said. “I hope our community’s children realize, now and 10 years from now, how much this city loves and values them and their development. It truly does take a village, and wherever these bright young minds end up, we will be proud to have been part of their journey.”
“People can do what they can. Organizations can do what they can,” said Mayor Van Johnson. “SCAD had it not only in their heart to certainly be good corporate neighbors, but they also saw the need of us being able to empower people in the communities.”
Johnson took office in January 2020, just before the pandemic began to significantly alter life in the U.S. Since March 2020, Johnson has led the city’s response to COVID-19, confronting one of the most challenging decisions in modern Savannah’s history: whether to proceed with the 2020 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. After careful consideration, Johnson made the difficult determination to cancel the festivities. In July, he indicated that, in his opinion, the school year should be delayed, and virtual instruction should replace in-person learning indefinitely.
Strategically, Johnson has led efforts to provide learning devices and internet access for Savannah’s diverse learning communities. On September 2, 2020, he launched a 10-bus fleet that provides high-speed internet across the city.
“This is a way for us to share our knowledge and our resources with the community,” said Wallace. “The true value of this donation can’t be measured in money. We’re talking about dozens of students who now have reliable access to educational technology to continue to grow and develop as learners and citizens.”
SCAD, which conducted all classes virtually in spring and summer, will continue with mostly virtual operations this fall, while opening designated SCAD buildings to allow students to access specialized learning resources in a responsible, socially distanced manner. “Of course, we’re following all CDC, state, and local guidelines, and we remain in constant consultation with the country’s top health experts,” Wallace said. “SCAD has implemented multiple strategies to promote safe learning, including high-tech temperature-check stations, hand-sanitizer stations, and rigorous contact-tracing.”
“Whether in-person or through virtual learning, the SCAD student experience remains unmatched, and our graduates continue to land their dream jobs at the world’s top-tier firms,” Wallace said. “We tirelessly elevate the SCAD academic experience, and we are buoyed by our track record of success as we approach the fall quarter.”
Although the future remains uncertain for all organizations and governments, the positive community partnerships created and exemplified by SCAD, R.I.S.E., and the City of Savannah provide hope for all members of this and any community suffering, together, through the pandemic.