Foundation makes sure no students left behind | January 18, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 18, 2013

Foundation makes sure no students left behind

Tough childhoods recalled as Brin-Wojcicki Foundation hands out laptops

by Chris Kenrick

Not everybody who lives in Palo Alto is wealthy, even though it sometimes can seem that way.

Palo Alto High School journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki and Paly Principal Phil Winston shared their personal stories of humble beginnings recently as Wojcicki handed out brand-new Chromebook laptops to 40 Paly students in need.

The laptops were provided by the Brin-Wojcicki Foundation, established by Wojcicki's daughter, health care entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki, and her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

"We both grew up in situations that were not like Palo Alto — probably very much similar to many of our minority students," Winston said of himself and Wojcicki, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to New York City in the 1930s and later moved to Southern California.

Wojcicki recalled her childhood as "very poor."

"My father was an artist, so we had zero money," she said. "I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with four people, and I almost never had a single piece of new clothing until I went to college."

Winston grew up in Milpitas, where he worked as a gardener and custodian through a city program. With a four-year college financially out of reach, he attended Mission College and later California State University East Bay before becoming a special-education teacher.

Knowing nothing of the surprise they were about to receive, 40 Paly students were sent call slips the Friday before winter break to come to a meeting in Wojcicki's classroom. Students in need were identified through the federal free-and-reduced-price lunch program and other special programs.

"They had no idea why they were being called in there," Wojcicki said. "It was holiday time, so they thought they were getting pizza or something.

"We said, 'We have a surprise for you,' and we held up a box that looked kind of like a pizza box."

One of the students — correctly — said, "No, it looks like a computer."

"Some of the kids were crying — I didn't expect that. It was incredibly moving," Wojcicki said.

"I can identify with these kids.

"I used education as my way out, and I said to them I wanted them to also use education as a way to improve their lives and lead a really good life. They all seemed to relate to it. It was very inspirational for me.

"Now they can do their work at home, just like everybody else."

Though the vast majority of Palo Alto students have computers at home, all campuses supply computer banks for use by students who do not.

A computer-lending program run by the school district, iConnect, currently has 143 computers on loan — serving an estimated 400 to 450 students. Households may keep them for as long as they have a child enrolled in the Palo Alto Unified School District.

"The district policy is to provide a long-term loan of a computer to every family in the district with a financial need," Chief Technology Officer Ann Dunkin said.

"Financial need is defined as students on free-or-reduced lunch without a computer at home. Families fund Internet access; Comcast has a program that will provide access to these families for $9.99 per month."

The Brin-Wojcicki computers come with free Web access for two years through Verizon — and the laptops are for keeps, Winston said.

"It's really nice to go up to those students now and say, 'Do you have your homework done?' because now there's no excuse," the principal said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 18, 2013 at 10:47 am

Recently, Google announced some very aggressive prices for its Chromebooks for educational institutional use—

$99 Chromebooks For Educational Puposes:
Web Link

Since these Chromebooks seem to have been donated by the Brin-Wojcicki Foundation (Google in another name), cost to this Foundation is not an issue.

With mobile computers now at $100, and some table PCs are being manufactured in China for less than $100—it makes no sense for any school to continue to throw good money after bad on paper books, and little-used school-based libraries.

There really isn’t any reason why the District hasn’t come up with a plan to insure that every student has access to some sort of home-based computer. The recent decision to spend $1M on teacher bonuses would have bought a Chromebook for every student in the District.

Posted by Technology and Teachers, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

I wonder if Mr. Martin believes in human contact at all. I've seen his comments before. Yes, technology can be great, but it is not the only answer to everything. Rewarding and supporting our human teachers is just as important as more computers everywhere, all the time.

I am very glad these students have their own computers now to enhance and supplement their education. I am even more glad that they have PEOPLE in their lives who care about them and their education. And I am very glad that, in addition, they still have actual LIBRARIES available in their school as well. ALL of these things are important.

Posted by Hearhear, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 18, 2013 at 11:25 am

Technology, you said just what I was thinking. Thank you.

Posted by mutti, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 18, 2013 at 11:30 am

The $99 Chromebooks were gone in about a day. They set up a waiting list, and that got full, too.

I'm glad this happened for the PAUSD students. It's hard to be the poor kid in Palo Alto.

I wonder if the foundation would be willing to do the same for East Palo Alto kids? About 75% have computers at home, but Ravenswood District teachers can't assign computer-necessary homework because of the other 25%.

The Comcast $9.99/month for home internet is a great deal for families on free/reduced lunch. Ravenswood is trying to spread the word on this -- almost 90% of its students qualify.

Posted by Amado P., a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

This was a wonderful gesture of kindness for 40 students at Paly who otherwise would not have been able to purchase a Cromebook regardless of the relative low cost for many in this community. I congratulate the Brin-Wojcicki Foundation for this contribution, and teacher Ester Wojcicki and Pricipal Phil Winston for making this happen. Obviously, the students were overjoyed to see that some people in this community care about their success in school.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm

> About 25% of Ravenswood’s students don’t have PCs at home.

This seems like a problem for the folks in the Ravenswood District to try to solve—

Ravenswood Education Foundation:
Web Link

Although there might be an availability problem for the $99 Chromebooks, the basic cost for these units is not very much—

Chromebooks ($199):
Web Link

Ravenswood hosts students from K-8. K-2 is probably not the best fit for PCs, but certainly by third grade kids are ready (if not past-ready)--

Ravenswood/ 3500 Students with $39M Budget:
Web Link

It would cost about $20K per grade to provide Chromebooks to this school district for students that don’t have PCs at home—all-in-all, about $125K. This small amount would seem like something that the Ravenswood Education Foundation, and the District, would want to do for themselves. Certainly grades 5-8 would not be that hard to fund, in the short term.

Posted by Poor, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

It is shocking what is considered poor at this school. My son is considered poor, though we have a combined income of over $300,000 per year. But our house is small, our lot is like a postage stamp, and we are half a block from Alma-- because we live within our means. Which means our son does NOT drive a BMW to school, we rarely take vacations, we work long hours and drive old cars ourselves. We are shunned and ostracized locally because we do not LOOK rich. Yet our son cannot qualify for any kind of financial or academic help because the state says we ARE rich!!!

Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Wayne Martin,
I heard something on the radio the other day that you made me think of....Tell me we don't need books anymore and I'll ask you if any computer has ever lasted 200 years.

Posted by citizen, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Ambivalent about this heart-warming story.

Agree with "Poor" above.

The amount of tax dollars flowing through this district to students who wrangle the free/reduced lunch. Now free computers. It gives one pause. There's rich, there's poor, and there's a big place between... even in Palo Alto. The kneejerk editorial posture that there's a stark have/havenot divide. No. It's a sliding scale. With lots "rich" families taking two jobs to make sure their kids get a computer.

I've seen the kids on reduced lunch. Top of the line sneakers. Cellphone sticking out of their pockets.

I'm just saying. Programs like Brin-W are commendable. But I wish they had put some incentive in there for these families rather than saying, here's more freebies via pausd just because you are on the free lunch program. This kind of story must be disheartening to the bootstrappers who bust their butts to get OFF the free/reduced lunch welfare.

Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm

It sounds like you have a 3 person family? Two parents and your son? In order for a 3 person family to qualify for free/reduced lunches (which was the basis for these students receiving the laptops), the family has to earn less than $24,817 per year. Your $300,000 a year IS NOT POOR.

Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Citizen, you say "I've seen the kids on reduced lunch. Top of the line sneakers. Cellphone sticking out of their pockets". How did you identify the students on reduced lunch? Wait, don't tell me..I think I can guess.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm

At Paly the reduced lunch kids are the ones who buy lunch on campus - the rest buy lunch at T & C.

It is hard and relative to judge wealth in Palo Alto. For many families, just making ends meet is often more difficult than it would appear. Basic costs like housing take a large percentage of the monthly income and some families (I know of at least one) have moved to Palo Alto from EPA because they wanted their kids to be raised in a safer environment than where they could afford a larger home.

We have had supposed low income workers at our home doing construction. They appeared to make a high priority of their low income arriving each day and after lunch with their Starbucks, using their Iphones, etc.

As I say, wealth is relative and hard to work out.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm

>> wealth is relative and hard to work out.

Many families have a greater resource than income, it's called rich grandparents.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Woj you are a treasure. Thank you for caring about these students and using your resources and connections to bring much-needed opportunities for them. Can you get some Chromebooks for Gunn students as well or will this only be for Paly?

Posted by paly Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm

This is a wonderful gift for these students! It was also great to hear the stories of Mr. Winston and Ms. Wojcicki. They both add alot to Paly.

To all the cynical people in Palo Alto, there truly ARE poor people that live here. There are families that need the food pantry, use some of the services at the Opportunity Center, receive holiday assistance from Innvision, etc. There are families that live in small apartments, BMR housing, the Opportunity Center, etc.

I've seen kids who receive reduced lunch with inexpensive clothing, basic cell phones, close-knit families and friends. Like Parent, we've had "low income" people working in our home and yard, no Starbucks, hard workers, close to their families, just really lovely people.

To "Poor" perhaps you are ostracized because of your attitude, not the fact that you live in a small house and drive old cars. Almost none of the kids I know could care less about the size of your house (unless you have a cool basement for them to hang out in) or your car (unless its REALLY cool).

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 4:18 pm

> Tell me we don't need books anymore and I'll ask you
> if any computer has ever lasted 200 years.

If we were not living in the middle of the Silicon Valley—this kind of comment might be expected, but here we are … slap dab in the middle!

Paper (and parchment) has proven to be extremely long-lived as a medium for holding written information—in some environments. Add a little water, and/or sunlight—not so much.

It’s hard to believe that every medium used for publishing/distributing information will not need some sort of conservation—not only for the “works”, but also for the “digital readers”. This is not hard to do, but it does re quire that someone is responsible for doing this work, and that it gets done at some time in the future.

Relative to a local school district—such as the PAUSD—the cost of the buildings, staffing, building maintenance, utilities and holdings—when viewed in 30-year timeframes, can run into the tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars. Whereas the cost of digital media for this same timeframe will be quite a bit less—maybe even as much as 90% less.

Moreover, shifting to digital media allows students to gain access to a world of information—both printed, and non-printed. These new mobile computing devices provided not only screens for reading, but the ability to display video—which will be used increasingly in the future to augment, if not seriously replace, many stand-in-the-front teachers.

No small school library can hold more than a few thousand books, at best. The Net can provide access to every book every published, and more. Time to recognize that fact, put your buggy whips in the closet, and move into the 21st Century.

Posted by Poor, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm

For the record, there are five people in our family. I would have thought we were middle income, but the neighbors and most of the community around us pre-judge us as poor. Howeveer, the state and the IRS, consider us rich. Yet the real estate community, the lenders, inspire of a credit score of 860, consider us poor. The financial aid for college folks consider us rich....yet those kids qualifying for such aid dress far better than any of my kids! Go figure...

There is a vast demographic between rich and poor in this town that is not being accounted for, period. Life is simply not easy for us! My oldest son works part time, I work sixty hours a week, my husband seventy-two, and we cannot keep this up forever,
Especially since our home cars and clothes scream POOR on our income! Something is wrong with this picture and I have concluded it is Palo Alto. After my oldest son graduates, we will move elsewhere.

In studying the Bay Area neighborhoods, I have found some with a lower cost of living with schools just as good or better, due to parent involvement if not money!

Posted by Teacher, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 19, 2013 at 11:19 pm

"Citizen", you are SOOO Palo Alto.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 20, 2013 at 12:44 am

Agree with "Poor" that they should move elsewhere.

We live in a very small house too but we have excess money to spend on tutoring, extracurriculars, restaurants, vacations, etc. If all our money was going to our mortgage, we would definitely move elsewhere. There's more to life than PAUSD.

Re the article, I am a shocked that people are asking for donations to Gunn and EPA also. One good deed and people ask for more. . . nice gratitude.

How likely is it that the 40 recipients live in EPA?

Interesting read about Woj's and Winston's upbringings.

Posted by just wondering, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I think it is great to give computer to kids who need. Wondering about the photo. I want to think that parents/legal gardians agreed to having thier kids photo shown here.
I'm wondering when did the event take place?

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 22, 2013 at 12:34 am

Article said Friday before Winter Break. Regarding the photo, I'm more curious about the East of Eden poster prominent in the background.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2013 at 10:51 am

just wondering - the photo is courtesy of Palo Alto High School so specific parent permission isn't needed, it is given (or not) when parents fill out the school forms.

Musical - why are you wondering about the poster?

Poor - If you are so unhappy in Palo Alto, you idea to move is a good one.

Thanks for the donations!!!

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 22, 2013 at 11:03 am

The background poster in the photo is off-topic, but I couldn't help noticing it. Have the kids been reading Steinbeck, or is someone a James Dean fan? Or a Stanford Theatre fan? Guess I'm just inquisitive. I often ask people about things they've hung on their walls. In the old days I asked about books on their shelves, but don't see too many of those anymore.

Posted by just wondering, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Paly parent - Do forms filled by parents usually include permission to use photo along other personal info held by the school?

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 23, 2013 at 7:26 am

Since 40 laptops were given out, I would think the students in the photo volunteered to be in the picture.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

If that's Wojcicki's room, the poster is perhaps there because James Franco was her student and he acted as James Dean in the James Dean movie (2001). He visited her freshman English class when my son was in her class two years ago and my child got an autograph.

Parents fill out online registration forms every year or two and there is a question of whether or not your child can be included in school photos. I don't think this media photo is included in that permission statement. Yearbook photos are also not included in the permission statement. It's mainly permission for the school to show photos of students if they are promoting the school.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Off-topic re background poster, thank you Parent. Sounds good; the Franco connection hadn't occurred to me.