SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students are having a hard time with distance-learning. 

A recent study shows the number of students dropping out of school increased significantly last school year in Silicon Valley, while others don’t have the proper internet connection to successfully learn from home. 

According to the 2021 Silicon Valley Index, released by nonprofit Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s Institute for Regional Studies, high school graduation rates fell significantly in the 2019-20 school year. 

“That’s deeply concerning because for many years we had been reporting improving graduation rates, that had been a terrific trend that made us all feel good in Silicon Valley and the pandemic changed that,” said Russell Hancock,  CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

“It’s been hard for kids to stick with it and particularly for our low-income residents.”

The index, which includes Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, Fremont, Newark, Union City and Scotts Valley, shows dropout rates were up by three percentage points from the prior school year. 

Silicon Valley’s high school dropout rate was 11.2% in 2020, significantly higher than the state as a whole at 8.9%. 

A dropout rate above 10% has not been observed in Silicon Valley since 2012, according to the index. 

Distance learning has only made school more difficult, especially for homeless youth, English-language learners, Hispanic and low-income students, according to the index.

Silicon Valley 2020 dropout rates: 

Santa Clara County — 13.8% dropout rate

San Mateo County — 6.8% dropout rate

Fremont, Newark, Union City and Scotts Valley — 5.4% dropout rate

“If you are in a low-income family you probably have both of your parents out of the home working, you probably live in a very crowded house that’s being shared with multiple generations, you probably don’t have a good broadband connection, you may or may not have a device, and you probably don’t have room to set up a desk,” said Hancock. 

“You’re probably feeling tremendous pressure to contribute income to the family as opposed to passively being a student,” Hancock added. 

“All of that is a formula for these young people to drop out. It’s cruel and it’s a deep bifurcation in our society.”

Courtesy: Joint Venture Silicon Valley

Digital Divide

The index shows, despite 2019 census data indicating nearly all Silicon Valley’s students had a computer and internet access at home, local efforts to gauge the lack of students’ digital access to support distance-learning identified a much greater need. 

In Santa Clara County alone, a minimum of 39,000 computers and 11,400 hotspots were needed for Fall 2020-21. 

Hancock tells KRON4 News the index has identified two different economies for Silicon Valley: one that can work remote and one that cannot.  

“The in-person economy has been devastated, it’s not possible for folks to show up and to do their jobs, so there’s tremendous economic destruction out there,” said Hancock. 

“That’s the central finding of the index, it’s become Silicon Valley’s most identifying characteristic.”

Courtesy: Joint Venture Silicon Valley

In East San Jose, students have historically faced additional challenges to receiving their education. 

The predominantly immigrant Latino and Vietnamese community has been especially hit the hardest by the pandemic, as most families don’t have the option to work from home. 

President of the Alum Rock Union School District Board, Corina Herrera-Loera, tells KRON4 News East San Jose youth are now faced with additional significant challenges as they continue to pursue their education. 

“The needs are high and unfortunately it’s gotten to the point where we lost some of our students,” said Herrera-Loera. 

“In the beginning of this pandemic when we had to shift 100 percent of our kids to social distancing, not all of our kids had an internet connection or a device.”

Courtesy: Joint Venture Silicon Valley

Herrera-Loera says most of the district’s students live in multi-generational households, common in East San Jose, making it nearly impossible to find a quiet space to do their work. 

In addition, many students don’t have the proper internet connection to do distance-learning, prompting some to give up on school. 

According to the index, low internet speeds in coastal and rural parts of Silicon Valley have posed another challenge for distance-learning.

“Even though we have them connected now, we still don’t really have them connected,”

“Our internet is now the best either, the internet connection in the Mayfair area within our district is the worst,” Herrera-Loera added.

“And what does that mean? That our kids are getting kicked out of zoom meeting all the time … I can’t imagine all the things our children are dealing with.”

Courtesy: Joint Venture Silicon Valley

As schools look to reopen next school year, the challenge for educators is continuing to meet their students’ needs. 

Herrera-Loera says schools will have to prepare themselves for all the other ways the pandemic has impacted their students, whether it be dealing with the death of a family due to COVID or the psychological impacts the pandemic has had on them. 

“All of those things create stress and unfortunately it has a ripple effect,” said Herrera-Loera.

“Right now all of our children are dealing with the stressors inside their home, where they don’t have that outside connection to maybe another healthy adult that they might feel more comfortable with in sharing some of these things.”