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Media Coverage | Pittsburgh Tech companies help pay for laptops for 7,000 city students

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By Bob Bauder | April 7, 2020 | Read the full article

Pittsburgh’s technology sector is pulling together to provide computers for more than 7,000 city schoolchildren who need them for virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council organized a teleconference and group chat on Tuesday where Gerardo Interiano, who heads government relations for Pittsburgh-based self-driving vehicle company Aurora, laid out a partnership called PGH Beyond the Laptops. Local tech companies plan to provide $200,000 as a matching grant for computer purchases.

Neighborhood Allies, a nonprofit community development organization, is handling computer acquisition and community fundraising. To release the grant, the organization must raise $200,000 and is collecting donations through the Beyond the Laptops website.

“Together today what we are announcing is a $200,000 match thanks to companies like Google and Verizon, to the Gismondi Family Foundation, to the (Richard King) Mellon Foundation, to the University of Pittsburgh,” Interiano said. “We put this funding together to go to the community and say, ‘Hey, work with us. Help us match these dollars to get them to the organizations like Neighborhood Allies that need them the most.’ ”

It costs Neighborhood Allies $50 to $100 to refurbish a used computer and about $300 to buy new, he said.

About 75,000 families in Allegheny County, including about 7,500 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, lack computers, according to Vanessa Buffry, Neighborhood Allies’ senior program manager of digital inclusion.

“If we wanted to go outside of that, the need is just astounding in the county,” she said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the district was not able to reach about 5,400 district families with a survey on computer availability in their homes. He said the district is gearing up to begin virtual education and kids must have computers to participate.

Principals and teachers, he said, would begin calling families who have not responded to the survey so the district has an accurate idea of how many students need them.

He described the donation of 7,000 computers as “life-changing’ for the students, and thanked the organizers and supporters of Beyond the Laptops.

“We have to ensure that we are meeting the varying needs for our students,” he said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said students need internet access in addition to computers.

“If we’re able to this part, I’m willing to go knock on doors at Comcast and Verizon and talk to them about providing discounted rates beyond the rates that they have to create a pilot program for the city and hopefully then throughout Allegheny County,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, bbauder@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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