November 05, 2019
Digital Equity Beyond the Classroom Walls
$25,000 Verizon Grant Advances Efforts to Bridge Digital Divide
Friends of the Children has just been awarded a $25,000 grant from Verizon to support working with youth in STEM projects as well as transform our NE Portland building into the Friends of the Children Center for Excellence—a more accessible, technologically forward and useful space for our growing community of youth, Friends chapters, and partners.
“With computers and technology now integrated into virtually every form of employment and post-secondary life, Verizon’s investment is critical to supporting our youth as they find their spark and become competitive professionals in a growing, tech-savvy job market,” explains Kate Sacamano, Development and Marketing Director. “Increasing our youth's exposure to STEM and building habits and confidence around technology will bolster our youth’s success today and in the future.”
This new funding comes on the heels of some pivotal news. The classroom digital divide has been declared closed by a national group devoted to classroom connectivity. The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway reports that 99% of schools nationwide now have a clear path to high-speed internet for digital learning in the classroom.
While this is good news worth celebrating, it ushers in new challenges. Homework that requires internet access is on the rise, making what has become known as the homework gap the new great digital divider.
“Being digital creators in the 21st century is immensely powerful for our youth. It affords them the platform and position to be the hero in their own story," — Randy Corradine, Director of Education and Equity
In a recent digital access survey, our professional mentors reported that 47% of our program youth do not have a computer, laptop, or tablet at home. Most of our families also lack internet access and only 29% have consistent cell service. This digital inequity is accelerating the widening achievement gap between lower-income youth and their more affluent peers. Research shows that students who have access to home computers are 6–8% more likely to graduate from high school than teenagers who do not have home computers.
With no computer or internet at home, our youth get pretty savvy at cobbling together whatever connectivity they can find to do their homework—from going to the library or a friend’s house to sitting in fast food restaurants completing research papers from a smartphone.
With challenging scenarios like this, digital inclusion has become critical to our mission of supporting youth in achieving their goals and laying a foundation for life after high school. In 2015, funding from the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission helped outfit our Friends with tablets to use while on outings with youth.
“Having a computer to use on outings has helped my older youth apply for jobs and work on homework. For my younger youth it has been an opportunity for them to practice their reading skills in different ways than just reading a book by accessing reading apps and games,” one Friend described. Increased access to computers also helped their youth explore personal interests like creating videos, recording songs, blogging, and learning new workout techniques.
Digital equity and literacy starts with access to technology, but it involves much more than the mere ability to use software or operate a digital device. It also requires a set of cognitive, social, and emotional skills which users need in order to function effectively in digital environments. Additionally, it is vital for our youth to not just be consumers of digital technology but creators.
“Being digital creators in the 21st century is immensely powerful for our youth,” explains Randy Corradine, Director of Education and Equity. “It affords them the platform and position to be the hero in their own story, build networks beyond their block, and intertwine with global, social movements which is very exciting and empowering.”