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Bridging the Gap: Brevard Public Schools plan for Digital Inclusion
Author: Patricia G. Lewis and Amy Franco, Brevard Public Schools | June 26th, 2006
Communities: Access

In Brevard County, Florida, as in most areas across the United States, there exists a gap between people and communities who can make effective use of technology and those who cannot.  To address this issue, Brevard Public Schools has established a partnership with the Institute for the Study of Digital Inclusion (ISDI).  ISDI was founded in 2001 to promote digital literacy for all, but especially targeting those youth and their families in underserved communities. These students are generally considered the most ?at risk? in our school district.  One consequence of this ?Digital Divide? is the possible long-term effect it will have on today?s youth.  Because some sections of our community are experiencing a lack of access to technology and computer based skills, an entire generation of young people might not be able to contribute fully to society.  Not only will they possibly be prevented from gaining quality jobs, but many educational opportunities might be closed to them.  We recognize a need to help all children understand technology and the role it can play in their future.

 

A major advantage of joining in an alliance with the ISDI is the permission to use their licensing agreement with Microsoft which provides operating systems and Office applications for each computer distributed through the ?Make It Take It? (MITI) training program.  Other benefits include 15 donated computers to set-up and operate a MITI computer lab, initial training for staff, manuals, suggested guidelines, and a proven track record of success in other school districts currently involved in the MITI program.

 

Brevard Schools Department of Educational Technology has a vision to provide computers and Internet access to children and families who have been unable to establish this capability in their homes. We have tailored our program to the unique and specific needs of Brevard County. 

 

  The four major objectives for our plan include:

 

1.      Expanding the use of technology at various community centers.  Recognizing the need to assist all students in crossing the ?digital divide?, Brevard Public Schools has established a partnership with area community centers by donating computers for students to use after school hours.  By making computers available for students to work on homework assignments and to practice technology skills, we will be able to increase students? opportunities for success at school.  With increased access to technology, students can continue building on the foundation of skills acquired from direct technology instruction that they receive in school. Currently there are four community centers sites located in specially selected neighborhoods throughout the district. Each community center has a computer lab equipped with 10-13 computers. These donated computers have been loaded with ?Classworks? Language Arts and Math software for use with Kindergarten through 8th grade students.  Curriculum Advantage, the company that owns Classworks, has authorized the use of their extensive software program at all of the current community center locations.  Plans are being discussed for the establishment of additional community center sites for the 2006-2007 school year.

 

 

2.      Increasing public and student awareness of the many technology resources our school sites and public libraries have to offer.  The Central Brevard Public Library, located in Cocoa, has a technology lab with 10 public workstations donated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft Office software, educational software and Internet access are available for public use during non-class times. There is also free training offered for students and their families.  Most of the other Brevard County library branches have computers with Internet access for students to use. Some of the Brevard Public Schools? computer labs are open after the school day ends allowing students to extend their exposure to technology.  This is an area that we will focus on in more depth since the schools have the technology already in place for an extended learning day. 

 

3.      1. Initiating a program whereby students rebuild computers to take home – “Make It Take It".  Mr. Freemont Bassett, United Space Alliance Engineer, has been a great asset to the Brevard Public Schools technology endeavors in the past. Freebie and his group of volunteers rebuild donated computers at our Whispering Hills site for use in our schools. These engineers graciously donate hours of their time and are very willing to work with us on our new initiative to “Bridge the Digital Divide”. In the Make It Take It program, students will assemble donated computers themselves, get them working, and then take them home to use. Southwest Middle School and Bayside High School will be implementing MITI as part of their PC Support Services curriculum beginning with the 2006–2007 school year. This program offers a broad foundation of knowledge and skills to prepare students for employment. Upon completion of the curriculum, students will be certified by Microsoft and eligible for career opportunities in the PC support field.

 

4.      Broadening the development of partnerships with community businesses. Through a collaborative effort between private, public and non-profit groups, we plan to broaden our audience in the community by presenting opportunities for businesses to partner with us though a variety of venues such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, Brevard Schools Foundation meetings, and letters of invitation.  Businesses and organizations in our community have a vested interest in this community?s young people and in the ?Space Coast?s? future.  It is vital that the quality of our educational system continues to be one of the very best in the nation.

 

In conclusion, digitally excluded individuals have less opportunity to take part in the education, training, entertainment and communications opportunities that are available online. They will also have less opportunity to compete for the many jobs in which the ability to use digital technologies is now an everyday requirement.  Our goal is to ensure that every student has equal access to technology tools, computers and the Internet. According to the Benton Foundation, ?Now, more than ever, unequal adoption of technology excludes many from reaping the fruits of the economy?.  With that in mind, Brevard Public Schools has a plan to bridge the ?digital divide? and eliminate the possibility that many of our youth will be technology-illiterate and without key skills that they will need to be successful adults.

 

Authors:

 

Patricia G. Lewis

Teacher Technology Specialist, Brevard Public Schools

And

Amy Franco

Classworks Program Manager, Brevard Public Schools






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