Writer’s Note: I am excited to pen this piece because David has been a friend and colleague for nearly a year, and I finally got to ask him all those burning questions we never had time to cover in our strategy meetings.
In his high school yearbook, Digi-Bridge Founder David Jessup, Jr. reported an unusual career ambition: to become a school board member. “At the time, I felt my high-performing school wasn’t getting the resources we needed,” he says, “all that time not knowing there were kids really living in poverty in the US.”
Now a Charlotte nonprofit founder who recently joined the City of Charlotte to develop a youth technology initiative, Jessup originally set his sights on law school. However, after he earned his BA in political science at the University of Central Florida, Teach for America recruited him and his trajectory changed.
“My whole life’s plan was turned upside down that moment I entered the classroom and met that group of fourth graders,” he says. “They didn’t have a computer in their house, not to mention pens, paper, breakfast, really things I thought everybody in this country had.”
This newfound perspective motivated Jessup to head towards education technology. “I felt fairly passionate about technology as an equalizer,” he says.
After serving as a fourth grade math and science teacher in the “Little Haiti” neighborhood of Miami with Teach for America, Jessup was recruited as US project manager of a nonprofit connecting children with laptops.
This role ultimately brought him to Charlotte, where he worked to provide students in elementary schools with connected devices. However, Jessup soon realized devices alone weren’t enough and a larger scale shift was needed.
“We had this hardware we were putting into the hands of kids, but we weren’t changing the content,” he says. “We were just making paper worksheets into digital worksheets. The students were taking the devices home and weren’t connected to the internet.”
“So founding Digi-Bridge was a step back to say, ‘What do schools need to support kids once technology is already in place? And there were some big holes.”
And so, Digi-Bridge was born.
“The first person I spoke with was learning community superintendent,” he recalls. “I said, I have this wild idea and here’s what I want to call it. She said, “I love it, it’s a great idea, and I think it’s what’s missing.’
With this new vantage point, Jessup says the project team was able to take a step back and make recommendations on the way forward, this time with the child as the client, to do the work focusing on what was best for the students.
Through some trial and error, Jessup and Digi-Bridge arrived at a model. “I started teaching on Saturday mornings to help cover the costs of starting a nonprofit, and before I knew it we had a waiting list for those classes,” he says. “We realized that kids and parents both wanted courses to use technology in a different and innovative way.”
Now, the team’s certified educators deliver accessible, computer-science focused #STEAMSaturdays courses at sites across Charlotte, and Digi-Bridge has introduced a Community Catalyst to work alongside two Title I schools through private-public partnership.
The organization recently introduced #DDCodeIns--Daddy Daughter Code-Ins--at Google Fiber headquarters to address the disparity of women in computer science.
And in September, the White House invited Jessup to attend a summit recognizing organizations doing work nationally to lead efforts toward answering the President’s call for computer science for all (#CSforAll). As you may imagine, Jessup says the experience was “amazing.”
“It was an honor to be able to share our work with the President and other leaders in the tech space,” Jessup says. “I was proud to represent Charlotte and share the news of partnerships that are helping us expand opportunities for youth, specifically computer science education.”
So what keeps him committed in the work of education technology--aside from White House recognition?
“Any time I’m with a kid and they’re engaged in one of our learning modules, I know we’re doing the right thing,” Jessup says. “Any kid who’s engaged but who is otherwise a ‘problem child’--any time a parent wants to stay and learn with their child--I know we’re on the right track. And that’s ultimately why I’ve continued to stay in teaching classes because that work reminds me of why we do all this.”
Up next? Jessup appears onstage as a speaker at this year’s TedxCharlotte Oct. 28.
To learn more about Digi-Bridge: www.digi-bridge.org.