It’s very clear that the revolution in technology in the past five years alone has changed the way we do business, how we interact, how we learn. Widespread access to cell phones, computers, iPods, GPS devices and the like has altered nearly every aspect of our lives and helps direct how we spend our time.
Most importantly, it places those without such access at a tremendous disadvantage, and that is especially true for low-income students in our classrooms, trying to keep up with classmates who have access to all the research and resource tools they need at home.
This digital divide, separating young people with technology access from those without, is a serious learning disadvantage. Fortunately, community leaders came up with a successful solution several years ago, and it’s still providing remarkable results.
Computers for Families, a program created by Partners in Education and run by my office, provides students from low-income families with refurbished computers, low-cost Internet access, and training. Working with educators at all levels, the program supports students, parents, teachers and schools by ensuring they’re on the cutting edge of instruction, using technology as a teaching and learning tool.
In today’s technology-based society, access to digital technologies has become as fundamental to student success as pencil and paper. In addition, many of the leaders of local companies consider the digital divide to be a barrier to career success; bridging that divide will therefore help low-income children become better prepared for the workplace they will enter after their school years have ended.
Basically, the program takes outdated computers donated by businesses, individuals or organizations and has them refurbished by adjudicated youth at the Los Prietos Boys Academy who have been trained in these skills.
Training is also critical to the families who receive the computers. Each family attends Family Training Nights to learn about setup, software and Internet service providers. Teacher training in support of technology integration is also central to the program.
Families experiencing technical hardware difficulties receive replacement computers, eliminating the need for technical assistance.
Since the program was launched in 1997, more than 8,000 children and families have been served. Each year, about 600 new students and families enter the program, usually in the fourth grade, in the Carpinteria, Goleta, Hope and Santa Barbara school districts. More than 175 teachers have received training and support, and more than 100 students at Los Prietos have been trained to participate in the refurbishment program, providing them with life skills as well.
The program’s lifeblood is donated computers. Unfortunately, the downturn in the economy has caused many businesses to delay technology upgrades. This means that the program’s need for used computers is higher than normal for this time of year. For this reason, the program is seeking used computers from the community to be used this upcoming school year.
Anyone interested in learning more about the program or making tax-deductible computer donations is asked to call Kristine Mainland White at 805.964.4711 x5400.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.