Digital Divide Targeted
by Allan Appel | Aug 28, 2012 10:15 pm
Nearly all the families at Rance Smith’s Mauro-Sheridan Science, Technical, and Communications School have home computers. But four or five of his friends who go to the Wexler-Grant neighborhood school don’t.
That “digital divide” may be about to narrow.
At least that’s the hope and aim of “Internet Essentials,” a program that Comcast rolled out nationally last year to put computers and Internet access into the hands of more low-income families who don’t have what’s considered an indispensable educational tool.
Rance and a dozen other Sheridan kids were on hand at the school Tuesday morning to help Comcast staff and local politicians get the word out about the initiative as school starts for another year, and as kids sign up for free and reduced lunch on registration.
In its second year, the Comcast program is offering both a streamlined approval process and expanded availability. Last year, only families qualifying for free lunch were eligible; this year it includes those eligible to receive reduced price lunch.
That means approximately 80 percent of families of kids in New Haven schools.
Rance’s Wexler-Grant friends often ask him to look things up, he said. He suggests they go to the library, or he invites them over to his house.
Under Comcast’s program, low-income families get $150 vouchers to purchase of a small “netbook” size Acer computer, with a ten-inch screen, that normally costs $450. A second benefit: $9.95 a month Internet access rate via Comcast, and training either on line or in person in town. The program is in its second year, with more than 100,000 families having participated in the first year, according to Comcast.
The “Internet Essentials” initiative grew out of the Jan 2011 merger between NBC and Comcast. Regulators required the corporate colossus to offer low-income families broadband service in return for approval of the merger.
No figures were available from the Board of Ed as to how many New Haven public schools’ approximately 20,000 kids are without home computers or how many participated last year in the Comcast program locally.
Mauro-Sheridan Family Educator Jene Flores estimated that “99.9 percent of our families have a computer.”
She attributed that to other programs already in place at her school—for example, the federal Computers for Learning (CFL) program, by which her school’s families without computers receive a desktop, installed, if they complete ten and a half weeks of training.
“We do the training with the parents,” she said, because the kids technologically are usually way ahead of their progenitors.
Comcast Public Relations Director Laura Brubaker Crisco said,in an email message that according to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), “33 percent of American homes don’t have an adequate computer in the home.”
Rance’s friend, Derrick Sims, could testify to that. He has a half dozen friends at Mauro Sheridan who ask him for access to use his computer, even though these kids have one at home. The reason: “They’re broken,” he said.
Laura Brubaker phrased it this way:” Internet Essentials was actually on Comcast’s agenda as much as the FCC’s [Federal Communications Commission] agenda. The program stemmed from an earlier and very similar program we were trying to develop via the National Cable & Telecommunications Association [NCTA] called “Adoption Plus” (A+). The thought behind that program was to propose a two-year, public-private partnership designed to promote broadband adoption for middle school-aged children in low income households that did not currently receive broadband service, but it never got off the ground.”
New Haven state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield was on hand at Tuesday’s event with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney. All touted internet access as a potential “great equalizer” especially in addressing the yawning educational achievement gap in Connecticut.
“The world is changing. We need to elevate all our children. We don’t have to end up where we start, and closing the Internet divide is a big step,” said Holder-Winfield.
Yet he was concerned that the program reach kids who need it. All too often, “we put things out and we don’t do much in terms of follow-up,” he said. He promised to keep his eyes on this one.
So did Mauro-Sheridan’s principal, Denise Coles-Cross. The real impact of the program is “to reach the kids in need. We can be the vehicle to get information out,” she said.
In what she termed an unusual pattern for her school, 15 or 16 new “interdistrict families” at the day’s orientation, which she had just attended, told her that don’t have a computer at home. She’ll be putting them in touch with her staff that handles CFL, the new Comcast, and other programs.
At least at Mauro-Sheridan, the digital divide doesn’t last long.
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Concepts for Adaptive Learning (CfAL) recently received, from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, a grant to support development of a curriculum called “Digital Literacy for Early Learners: A Primer for Parents.”
According to CfAL executive director Curtis Hill, the “program has been designed to increase disadvantaged parents’ awareness of the benefit of early learning, and help them engage in educating their children, ages 0 to 5, so their children can start kindergarten with the critical skills they’ll need to learn and succeed in school.”
Nonprofit CfAL will hold a benefit event in New Haven on September 12, 2012: http://www.eachchildlearns.org/
CfAL is part of the all-volunteer Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven. The Coalition’s LiteracyEveryday site features four main portals through which visitors may wish to get involved: “Get Help”; “Volunteer”; “Donate”; and “Learn More.” The website also includes a calendar and archive for News/Events and a list of Resources. There is a Blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, as well as a link to YouTube public service announcements.