In large shipping containers at the Goleta Union School District, there are flat screen monitors, power cables, keyboards and old desktop computers — and a team of Los Prietos Boys Camp members were organizing the electronics before they are refurbished and placed in a new home.
The boys were astonished to see multiple rows of computers when Computers for Families technician Walter La Riba opened three massive containers earlier this month as the program moved its equipment to the Goleta district headquarters at 401 N. Fairview Ave.
A joint project of Santa Barbara Partners in Education and the Santa Barbara County Education Office, CFF has distributed more than 11,000 computers to families and local students lacking desktops since its founding in 1996.
Boys from Los Prietos, a high school and county probation detention center, refurbish and distribute the computers.
“We tend to get a lot of donations during the holiday season,” said La Riba, an 11-year CFF employee. “The computers are in good condition and functional. They just need some repair.”
La Riba said about 600 computers are donated to South Coast families annually.
Access to computers and the internet has become increasingly necessary for gathering information and job searching, according to the United States Census Bureau.
GUSD Superintendent Bill Banning noted the importance of computer literacy.
“This program helps prepare students to be fully engaged in their education at school and at home,” Banning said. “The lack of home-based access to the technological tools that have become part of contemporary schooling is a significant deficit for families that can’t afford to provide it.”
When the program started nearly two decades ago, it was geared towards providing computers before the rapid increase of mobile technology, Banning said.
“The biggest challenge for our program is adapting to the growth of mobile devices,” Banning said. “Despite the rapid growth in personal access to digital tools and broadband, there is a significant part of our community with little or no access.”
Now, the nationally acclaimed program is also an effort to providing broadband access and help connect low-income families with internet service.
The biggest need is dependable access to broadband connectivity for some families, Banning said.
Pew Research Center reports the monthly cost of broadband service is cited by a handful of non-adopters as the primary reason for lacking a home broadband subscription.
Families receive information about Cox Communications discounted internet through its a Connect2Compete service.
“The program continues to provide families with computers and has expanded its focus to providing wireless connectivity and low-cost access to the internet,” Banning said.
Additionally, CFF provides training components to parents and children when the hardware is distributed, Banning said.
“That will always be an important part of what we do,” Banning said. “We are also working to provide parent training on internet safety and ways parents can support their children in the connected environment.”
Eligible students are in kindergarten through fifth grade in the Carpinteria Unified School District, as well as students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade in the Santa Barbara Unified, Goleta Union and Hope school districts.
“Computers are necessary for students,” said Ed Heron, a former board member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District who held the CFF committee chair for 18 years. “We feel it’s a significant step towards giving all students an equal opportunity to use the internet and gain skills.”