Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Digital Bridge: Reaching out to the Community

Over the past few years, we have worked to bring 21st Century skills into the classrooms at Capuchino High School and throughout the San Mateo Union High School District. When I would talk with teachers about integrating more information literacy skills into the curriculum, the normal refrain was that "a good percentage of my students do not have access to a computer or the Internet at home and I don't want them to be at a disadvantage." I would mention other points of access outside of the school day that students could use to complete assignments using information literacy skills, like the public and school libraries. This issue has been referred to as the 'Digital Divide' for several years now. About 2 years ago, I started brainstorming ways to make the Internet more accessible to the students in our school who do not have the advantage of having Internet access at home. One of the first thoughts was trying to create centers in the community and place computers there for the students to access during the evening hours and on the weekends. There were always issues with potential vandalism, support and supervision. I finally came to the realization that the only viable solution was to find a way to get the technology in the home and provide students a way to access the Internet from their homes. I likened the situation confronting students in the early primary grades who are struggling readers. How can we expect students to learn how to read if there aren't reading materials(books, newspapers, magazines) in the home?

I made it my goal to do my small part to alleviate this situation for as many low income students as I could. Granted, I had some advantages in this process. First, I teach a computer repair class and I have access to computers and computer parts to build computers from donations received from the community. I did receive a large group of computers from San Mateo County Regional Occupational Program last year that have been the primary source of computers given to students this year. San Bruno also has a municipal Cable TV company, meaning I could go directly to the city and not have to deal with a monolithic corporate bureaucracy like Comcast or AT&T to get Internet access to the students. I enlisted the support of several people on campus including, Ed Marquez, the Principal and decided to make a pitch to the City of San Bruno. Initially, we met with Connie Jackson, the City Manager, and Tenzin Gyaltsen, the Director of San Bruno Cable. My pitch to them was simple. As a city, how much could you cut the cost of Internet access to disadvantaged students at Capuchino High School? Initially there was silence, but soon I think the City officials saw the great benefit to these students. The first meeting ended with a preliminary agreement to work towards a 50% cut in the retail $29.95 monthly service cost. At that meeting there was also talk that Artichoke Joe's Casino had been looking for worthwhile community projects to support and this project might interest them.

Over the next few months; student surveys, research and interviews provided the information we needed to set some parameters on the program. The initial goal was to provide Internet access to all 9th grade students who were receiving 'Free and Reduced Lunch' services, so we did not have to create another formula to determine student need. In the current 9th Grade class 23 students were identified to be eligible for the program, with an additional 8-10 potentially eligible pending additional information.

In early February 2007, a meeting between the City of San Bruno, San Bruno Cable TV, Artichoke Joe's and Capuchino High School finalized an agreement to provide free Internet access to 9th grade Capuchino High School students on 'Free and Reduced Lunch' for a full calendar year. I personally feel great that many different people within the city government, business and schools have come together to provide a program that promotes student learning and citizenship.

Many thanks to: City Manager Connie Jackson, Cable TV Director Tenzin Gyaltsen, Ron Cox of Artichoke Joe's, Mayor Larry Franzella, Vice Mayor Ken Ibarra and Principal Ed Marquez.

The San Francisco Examiner and the San Mateo County Times also covered the launch of the project.

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