N.J. 8th-graders take global stage to promote technology, end poverty
Oct 12, 2023
Last month, eighth graders Angie Bravo and Naoki Aguirre traveled to New York’s Central Park and served as the voice for youth who need access to technology.
There, they spoke before a crowd of 60,000 with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg and actress and activist Danai Gurira, best known for her role in the movie “Black Panther,” discussing the impact and importance of bridging the digital divide among students. They later in a video on Good Morning America.
“It was such a cool experience,” said Bravo, who attends Newark’s Hawkins Street School with Aguirre. “We felt like mini celebrities. Now, when we walk around the school, we see the little kids smiling and pointing at us after seeing our segment on Good Morning America.”
Bravo, 14, and Aguirre, 13, spoke during the 2023 Global Citizen Festival, an annual music festival where concertgoers can earn free tickets to attend by taking action to help end extreme poverty worldwide.
At school, the teens participate in Verizon’s Innovative Learning Program (VILP), which addresses barriers to digital inclusion and supports high-poverty schools, providing free internet, technology devices, and innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning programs nationwide.
Verizon partners with Global Citizen to close the digital divide and show the impact technology can have on the lives of young people, said Jason Vilar, co-chair of the Verizon program at Hawkins Street.
According to Action Against Hunger, 783 million people are affected by hunger, and 45% of child deaths are due to starvation. UNICEF Data reports that 33% of children worldwide have internet access at home.
Vilar selected students from the pre-k through 8th-grade school, enrolling 696 students to represent their school at the festival on Sept. 23.
“Selecting Angie and Naoki was a no-brainer,” he said. “Their academic track record, extracurriculars, and perfect behavior in school made the choice that much easier.”
Alex Servello, Verizon’s director of corporate social responsibility, agreed.
“We are proud to work with Hawkins Street School and especially with students like Angie and Naoki, who were able to share their passion for STEM,” he said.
Nationwide, the program has helped 3.5 million students at 592 high-poverty middle and high schools, including 18 in New Jersey, to expand their education through technology since its inception in 2012, according to its website.
Alejandro Lopez, Hawkins Street School’s principal, is beaming with pride.
“I feel tremendously honored that Angie and Naoki were selected to represent our school community at the Global Citizens Festival,” he said. “They are the embodiment of the goals we have set to bridge the digital divide for our students when we partnered with Verizon Innovative Learning Schools and evidence of the positive impact of our partnership.
Bravo says her appearance at the Global Citizen Festival was an experience of a lifetime and that she was proud to be part of it and Verizon’s Learning Program.
Being on stage with Vestberg and Gurira “was cool, but it reminded me how I found my passion with technology and why the learning program is so vital,” she said. “With the technology we’ve been given, it’s easier for us to explore different interests in STEM. My hope is that one day, it will lead to me becoming a biologist.”
Aguirre shares her enthusiasm.
“The festival was cool,” he said. “My focus in school lately has been working in robotics as a member of the robotics club, and I want to pursue a career in technology.”
Both agree there is a need for more students in STEM fields.
“Being a part of STEM and the learning program comes with a lot of responsibility but is very rewarding,” Aguirre said. “The more students, the brighter the future.”
Deion Johnson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.