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An Alum-Led Nonprofit Donates Monitors To Providence Teachers And Honors Andy van Dam

by Kevin Stacey (Senior Writer, Physical Sciences)

Thanks to a nonprofit founded by a Brown graduate and alums affiliated with the University’s computer science department, more than 400 public school teachers in Providence will soon get a second computer monitor to help with remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The donation comes from Two Screens for Teachers, launched by tech entrepreneur and Class of 1998 Brown graduate Matthew Lerner. Since its founding last September, the organization has provided 24,000 monitors to teachers nationwide and continues to expand. The Providence donation was funded largely by Brown alums and made in honor of Andy van Dam, a legendary Brown professor and computer graphics pioneer.

“A second screen lets teachers see their students on one screen and their lesson plans on the other,” Lerner said. “A second monitor helps teachers and students immediately with remote learning during COVID.”

Van Dam says he’d been in contact with Lerner about the project and had been helping out with it various ways, but he had no idea that the donation in Providence would be made in his honor.

“It brought tears to my eyes when I got an email from [Lerner] with a link to a ProJo article about it,” he said. “In short, I kvelled. [The project] addresses an absolute immediate need. It’s crazy for teachers to try to work off laptops, where they have to choose between looking at their [lesson] or looking at their students. I think the project is just brilliant and I love Matt for doing it.”

The donation to Providence teachers is valued at approximately $50,000.

“This has been an incredibly challenging 12 months for our teachers as they adjust to changes not only in their daily routines but in their instructional delivery," said Harrison Peters, superintendent of Providence Public Schools. "We are indebted to project founders Matt Lerner and Mike Mathieu for seeing a need and taking action. And, we are so grateful to our partners at Brown University for once again stepping up to support the Providence community.”

Lerner says he got the idea for Two Screens for Teachers after talking to his neighbor, whose mother is a teacher and had been struggling with a single monitor. “I realized that in a complicated world during unprecedented times, a second screen is a simple thing we can do right now to help teachers,” Lerner wrote in a blog post.

A week after launch, the organization says it had 10,000 requests for monitors. By mid-October, the group had raised enough money to supply a monitor to every teacher in Seattle’s public schools. By January, they provided monitors to all San Francisco public school teachers. The organization has a waiting list of more than 170,000 teachers who have requested monitors and a goal to provide 250,000 monitors nationwide.

It is working with the education-focused nonprofit DonorsChoose to raise more money to fulfill those requests.