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Monday, March 11, 2013

Special computer project aimed at bridging digital divide for Newport High classmates

Newport High School students, from left, Miriah Combs, Michael Lewis, Tyler Baldwin, Mirissa Combs and Kayla Herald load new software onto a computer. They are participants in the school's Communities to Computers project. (Photo provided)


By Feoshia H. Davis
KyForward contributor

How much do you use the Internet?

If you’re like most people and businesses, you use it every day – to pay bills, find old friends, talk to colleagues, research vacation plans, and more.

For teenagers, the Internet is becoming even more of a necessity. It’s a primary place for research, communication and even school work. Textbooks and projects are increasingly going digital, with books, pens and paper quickly becoming tools of the past.

However, the digital divide — the rift between those who do and those who don’t have easy Internet access — is still a very real challenge for students in some school districts. While the vast majority of Kentuckians (more than 90 percent) have access to broadband Internet, for some families even the cost of a computer is out of reach.

In one Northern Kentucky high school, students began a project designed to bridge that digital divide. They’ve come together, helping their classmates get computers and connect to the Internet with an classroom project called Communities to Computers.

Newport High school visual communication art teacher Bonnie Stacey oversees Communities to Computers. Students improve donated computers and place them with families in need.

Communities to Computers is led by Newport High School students in the Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) and the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).

Student Elmer Stafford works on a computer. (Photo provided)

It began this school year when students were looking for a community project, just as the school was upgrading their computers with the help of a Federal School Improvement Grant.

“Over the summer our technology leader began replacing a lot of computers; they were still in good shape. We were just upgrading,” Stacey said.

Instead of getting rid of the Dell desktop computers, students decided to put them to better use. Newport High definitely faces a need, a recent school technology survey showed just over one-third of the high school’s 400 students don’t have home computers.

“They wanted to find some homes that needed computers and place them there,” Stacey said.

Community to Computers starts with five families

In January, the group gave away five computers.

“After Christmas break, the students brought the computers in my classroom, they learned how to go in and them take apart, cleaned them out and boost the memory. The kids loved to do that,” Stacey says.

The school identified families that needed computers; each attended a basic computing and computer maintenance session, and were sent home with free computers. They also got information on acquiring Internet access.

Plans are to give away 20 computers by the school year’s end.

“We’re working on the next computers now,” she added.

If additional funding can be secured, the program could continue into next year, Stacey said.

While Stacey guides the project, it’s heavily student led. The high schoolers took control of everything from gathering and preparing the computers, publicizing the program and organizing the family computing programs. MicroCenter in Cincinnati donated flash drives and Swapalease.com donated computer speakers.

“Students put together a short training in (document creation software) Open Office, how to launch a program and create a document, and how to save and print. The kids did a great job, and five computers went home that night,” Stacey said.

Student Technology Leadership Program members presented the program at the STLP regional conference at Northern Kentucky University. It was a hit, and will go on to state competition where students will present it again at Rupp Arena on March 28.

Community to Computers is important for the academic success of students who don’t have home computers, says Newport High School junior Hannah Elliot. She’s also the school’s FBLA president, and a major organizer and project presenter.

“It’s really important that everyone in the whole district have equal opportunities. Schools have changed a lot and are focused around technology. Having that equality is important to all of us,” Elliot said.

Elliot is involved in several tech-centered organizations and wants to major in business in college.

Another junior Mirissa Combs, FBLA vice president, was among students who prepped the computers. It was her fist time taking a computer apart. She’s unsure what she wants to study in college, but says this project piqued her interest in technology.

“This was very new learning process. It was very simple to do after going through it a couple of times. Now I can do it in my sleep,” she said.

While she’s learning, Combs takes pride in helping support the educational attainment of her fellow students through home computing.

“It evens out opportunities for students who have computers and those who don’t have computers. We’re using them to do research and complete assignments. You need to have a computer today for your basic education,” Combs said.



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