The Chromebook Chapter

San Francisco is known for its steep hills, cool summers, and being a leading hub for high-tech innovation. Unsurprisingly, the Minds Matter of San Francisco volunteer base is comprised of a significant number of tech professionals and enthusiasts. When MMSF learned that many of its mentees struggled to have consistent Internet access at home, helping the kids stay connected became a priority.

Marina Agapakis, a second-year mentor, and a product marketing manager at Google, heard about “Google’s Chromebooks for Nonprofits Program” and submitted the SF Chapter as an applicant. The outcome: MMSF received 100 Chromebooks for its mentees.

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“As soon as I became a MMSF mentor, I realized that we’d be an excellent candidate for a donation,” said Agapakis. “We are so excited to now be able to loan a Chromebook to every single MMSF mentee for the year, and to have additional Chromebooks available for future classes as the program continues to expand.”

The Chromebook is an Internet-dependent laptop, with most applications and documents living in the cloud. The lightweight computer is powered by Google’s Chrome operating system.

What started as a means to promote mentor and mentee collaboration is now reshaping the SF chapter’s curriculum.

“On Saturdays, the Chromebooks have given us the ability to integrate laptop-based lessons into the morning session,” said Agapakis. “Mentees also use Google Docs on their Chromebooks to work on all of their afternoon session exercises and to keep track of their summer program and college application materials.”

Ashwin Ravi, COO and Junior Mentor, sees boundless potential in these new devices.

“There’s a lot of opportunity with these Chromebooks,” said Ravi. “We can now digitize test prep so the kids don’t have to lug around heavy books, provide additional support such as ESL resources, and build an online repository to expose the mentees to new things.”

The laptops have already proved to be game changers.

“The Chromebook has made my life easier, especially with my college applications and getting help with my homework, “ said Armani Hall, a senior mentee.

Mentors are benefitting from the technology as well.

“My mentee is more responsive than she’s ever been,” said Ravi with a twinge of pride.

Besides test prep, MMSF is passionate about informing and encouraging mentees to consider different career paths and endeavors. Ravi and his team are working on building up a folder of advanced course material for the kids to explore undiscovered passions.

“As a chapter, we are so fortunate to be close to all these tech resources,” said Ravi. “And there are so many volunteers in MMSF who are proactively thinking about ways to enhance the mentee experience.”

Alongside the Chromebook initiative, there’s been a bigger push to expose mentees to the tech industry. Code for America, a nonprofit organization that aims to import the efficiency of the Web into government infrastructures, is generously providing MMSF with a location for weekly sessions.

“We’ve also launched an entirely new Website using Squarespace,” Ravi added.  A team of techie volunteers led the successful site launch, and it even caught the attention of Minds Matter National.

“Your site is impressive,” said Chymeka Olfonse, Executive Director of Minds Matter National. “All chapters should aspire to do something this clean and direct."

And on MMSF's recent technology integration efforts, as a whole:

"You have highly skilled volunteers," Olfonse said. "It’s obvious that you are a chapter that is willing to experiment and elevate your program.”