Leap for STEM: We can help City of McAllen address south side’s digital divide

MCALLEN, Texas – The director of Leap for STEM, a small nonprofit that fosters enthusiasm in science, technology, engineering and math, says her group stands ready to the help the City of McAllen address the digital divide on the south side of the city.

Milly Hernandez gave an interview to the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service at a news conference held to announce a $10,000 Digital Education Grant from Spectrum to help build a computer lab for Leap for STEM. The nonprofit also received 30 new laptops from the telecommunications giant.

Leap for STEM is based inside the Elks Lodge facility on Jordan Road on the south side of McAllen.

“We’re moving forward and we’re making strides to remedy this digital divide, but it’s still there,” Hernandez said. “There’s still a huge need in our area.”

Milly Hernandez

McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos acknowledged that access to broadband was a problem on the south side of McAllen in an interview with the Guardian immediately following his 2023 State of the City address. Villalobos said that while the north side of McAllen was doing okay, McAllen ISD had to put hotspots on school buses based on the south side so students could connect to the Internet during Covid.

“I was raised on the south side of McAllen. That is why I am in this area, to provide these opportunities for the kids because we see the need,” Hernandez said.

“We always say, oh, the northern part of McAllen has everything, the south side is kind of lacking. We are helping the kids here to make sure that there’s an opportunity.”

Michelle Rivera, the City of McAllen’s assistant city manager, was present for the Spectrum check presentation to Leap for STEM. She said she was impressed with what she saw.

“I think this is an incredible opportunity for these young kids. I got a chance to visit with some of them earlier and you can see the excitement in their faces,” Rivera said. “Anytime you can get a young child excited about science and technology, I think that’s a win for humanity because that’s where the future is going and to get these young ones started out interested right away, gives them an advantage. I think it’s speaks very well for the future of McAllen.” 

Rivera said Leap for STEM is “an incredibly well-kept secret” that shouldn’t be kept secret any longer. 

“I think you need to sing their praises. They are doing great work with minimal resources. I think they should be applauded for that. I’m very grateful that Spectrum chose them as one of three grants in Texas for this particular grant this year.”

It was put to Hernandez that maybe the City of McAllen might like to help Leap for STEM the same way Spectrum has, with a grant. Hernandez was asked what she would tell city leaders if they called to ask for more information about the nonprofit.

Hernandez replied:

“We want to get these kids really engaged and interested in STEM education because there’s a very big need, specifically with females, with women in engineering. We’re also working with the special needs kids. We have some kids that are autistic and kids that have Down syndrome and, of course, the Type One diabetic kids. So we’re giving everybody an opportunity. We’re an all-inclusive nonprofit that helps provide an opportunity for kids to learn those skills that are needed, those critical thinking, digital skills. If you don’t know technology in today’s world it’s very difficult for you to move forward. So we want to make sure that they get engaged at a younger age because they’re our future.”

Editor’s Note: Here are two podcasts about the digital divide in South McAllen. The first features the analysis of Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, City of McAllen Assistant City Manager Michelle Rivera, and Tania Ortega, senior manager of regional communications for Spectrum in Texas.


The second podcast features the analysis of Milly Hernandez, director of Leap for STEM.


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