The Transformational Tech series highlights Cisco’s nonprofit grant recipients that use technology to help transform the lives of individuals and communities.

Children in lower-income households have limited access to learning materials and experiences, like books and technology, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Furthermore, kids’ competency with reading ties closely with their literacy environment at home–like the number of books in the household and the level of interest in reading that parents and other family members show.

For 35 years, the team at Project READ-Redwood City has worked to bring literacy intervention to adults and families in our community. As the needs of the community have changed, service offerings evolved to meet those needs, ranging from adult literacy, family literacy, and youth services. Project READ helps children from historically underserved households learn how to read and develop a passion for learning through daily and weekly tutoring, small group, and family literacy meetings and classes.

In 2020, just as quarantines began cancelling social interactions, Project READ-Redwood City, received a San Francisco Bay Area Community Impact Grant (CIG) from the Cisco Foundation. Through CIG, the Foundation focuses investments on nonprofit partners addressing critical social challenges within a 50-mile radius of Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California.

With CIG funding, Project READ could expand their services and build a new, hybridized platform that offered learning opportunities via webinar to meet the child at home, giving them the leverage they needed to innovate. This timely support brought new opportunities, education, and technology to more people in need—making Project READ’s services more accessible to any student and family who could benefit from the programs they offer.

A virtual small reading group through Project READ
A virtual small reading group through Project READ.

More opportunities for more people

Adopting the hybrid model gave students unprecedented virtual access to uninterrupted literacy instructional support. Gil Gaeta, who’s in charge of Outreach and Development at Project READ, said, “Cisco’s grant helped us put a hybrid platform in place forever. We are 100% a hybrid learning center now, which gives us accessible learning to our families.”

Within months of school closures in 2020, Project READ successfully onboarded 40 percent of their children by securing and distributing hot spots and computers to access their online platform.

Lynnette is a third grader in Project READ’s Tuesday night online program focusing on family literacy. She comes from a household where Spanish is the home language. She attends a Spanish immersion program at her school and speaks Spanish about 60 percent of the time. Through her Project READ incoming student assessment, it was determined that Lynnette was reading English two grade levels below her age-level.

Within six months of joining Project READ for one-on-one tutoring, small group meetings, word-building games, and reading aloud, Lynnette has already increased her reading skills by one and a half grade levels!

Partnerships that lead to accessibility

Kathy Endaya, longtime Director at Project READ, explained that “if you don’t have [a partner] that’s an equal visionary, helping connect the dots, like Cisco did for us—it would have taken us years to accomplish.”

Soon, Project READ incorporated free, adaptive learning devices, called onetab, into their offerings. Through this partnership with onebillion (a Cisco Global Impact Grant recipient), kids can bring home tablet devices preloaded with literacy and math learning games modules. Project READ offers these onetabs to new students for access to at-home wraparound services from the beginning. This process allows Project READ the opportunity to sit down together with parents and children to explain how to use the device and its impact on reading and math.

Once their hybrid platform was up and running seamlessly, Project READ implemented real-time online diagnostics that utilize adaptive learning devices, clarify individualized online learning, and pinpoint opportunities for enrichment programs that engage the whole family in the learning process.

Project READ student using a onetab (orange device) onsite.
Project READ student using a onetab (orange device) onsite.

Piloting success after success

Since 2020, Project READ has remained in Cisco’s CIG program, giving them the advantage of continuing to build out their hybrid model across all programs and language acquisition programs, including:

  • A successful Project READ partnership (with The Junior League of Palo Alto—Mid-Peninsula) introduced a monthly mentoring program for girls who are interested in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) and literacy.
  • Project READ created and facilitated a virtual tutor training.
  • Their partnerships with other Bay Area community-based organizations including Cisco partners provided the opportunities for collaboration and shared learning to develop innovative technology-based literacy solutions.

“We’re reaching the invisible population.” Kathy Endaya continued, “Now, we can contact teachers, let them know what’s going on, get feedback from them, tailor learning plans, and, if need be, we can adjust online tutoring.”

Across all programs in 2022, Project READ has helped approximately 900 students and adults achieve literacy skills through its hybrid model. Project READ’s integrated Social Emotional Learning (SEL) instruction has helped 273 K-5 grade-level students develop skills around self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Many students have seen marked improvement in their reading skills, with an average of over two-and-a-half grade levels in one year—with over 30 percent of students increasing their reading skills by three grade levels or more!

What’s on the horizon

Project READ has a strong list of projects lined up for 2023. Gil detailed, “Our new pilots are focused on trauma-informed learning and family literacy, supporting system-impacted students and families and students who have experienced childhood trauma, specifically poverty.”

Kathy tacked on, “our SEL pilot [focuses on the] growth mindset to help students build confidence in themselves to see that they can achieve what they want academically.” This SEL assessment tool will be utilized across the board and within the new pilot program, so the Project READ team can visualize further growth. Gil divulged that Project READ is also “partnering with two other nonprofits to offer wraparound services that leverage technology and offer hybrid programming.”

Project READ is already on track to impact 300 historically underserved students and their families in 2023, with the goal to increase literacy levels, family engagement, and social-emotional development.

This shift to a hybrid learning model across all programs has positively impacted both Project READ and the community it serves. Project READ’s leadership continue to envision new innovations and collaborations with local partners that deepen impact, broaden reach, leverage technology to ensure access to education, services, and support.


Hoa Tran

Program Manager, Global Lead for Regional Solutions Grants

Cisco Foundation/Social Innovation Investments