A North Carolina where every student has equitable access to technology and ongoing computer training/support, providing all students with the opportunity to succeed.
1. To end the digital divide by equipping all economically disadvantaged students and families in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools with at-home access to computers, digital broadband, and the digital literacy training necessary to immediately stimulate academic and professional success.
2. To design and advocate any practices, assessments, or public policy that make this possible.
Community Needs Assessment:
“The digital divide” refers to the gap between people who have access to a computer and Internet and those who do not. Sadly, this gap plays a major role in the poverty cycle. According to a nationwide study conducted by the Economics and Statistics Administration in 2011, low-income families are well behind the national average in “both broadband adoption and computer use” (Economics and Statistics Administration, et. al, 2011). In North Carolina, 71% of households earning less than $15,000 per year do not own a computer and 78% do not have at-home Internet access. (The Children’s Partnership, 2008). Moreover, this issue is particularly important given the “large and persistent disparities” in access to technology across races. According to a 2003 Current Population Survey, “roughly one half of all African-American and Latino children…have access to home computers. In comparison, 85 percent of white, non-Latino children…have access to home computers” (Federal Reserve System Report, 2008).
Access to technology has a proven positive effect on academic achievement. A 2008 Federal Reserve study found that teenagers with computers at home were 8.1% more likely to graduate from high school (Federal Reserve System Report, 2008). In CMS, “non-economically disadvantaged” families pass both reading and math end-of-grade exams at a rate three times higher than students defined as “economically disadvantaged”—read: behind the digital divide. Without access to digital technology within their homes, economically disadvantaged students either have to rely on a very limited number of computers available for finite amounts of time at public libraries and their schools, or alternatively, attempt to accomplish their studies and assignments without the use of the full breadth of resources available online.
Joan Viteri, a single mother of three, E2D Volunteer, Spanish teacher at Hough High School, and recipient of a computer through E2D, understands this problem as both a mother and as a teacher who assigns students work online. “Students are not going to tell you in front of a class, ‘I can’t do the homework, I don’t have the computer to do it…’ They just won’t do the homework” (Batten, Charlotte Observer, 2014). It is not up to children, but educators, policy makers, and community members, to ensure all students have equal opportunities to succeed in school. And that’s what computers can do–even the playing field in our schools by providing resources for homework and research, decreasing delinquency, connecting lessons with real life situations, and increasing initiative (Federal Reserve System Report, 2008).
What’s more, computer skills are increasingly necessary for finding employment. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that 62% of working Americans use the Internet as an integral part of their jobs (U.S. Department of Commerce Fact Sheet on Digital Literacy, 2011).
As computer access and training becomes increasingly essential in the classroom and workforce, those behind the digital divide will only fall further behind unless we step up and make a change. By stopping this cycle, providing digital access and training, and evening the playing field in the CMS classrooms, we can give families the critical tools necessary to overcome generational poverty.
One young girl recognized the need for change in her community. A middle school student from Davidson, North Carolina came home from school one afternoon with two questions for her parents: first, “How can all kids in our school do their homework and projects successfully if some of their families are too poor to own digital technology?” and more remarkably, “What can we do to help?” With support from her family and community, the student founded E3D—Eliminate the Davidson Digital Divide. This non-profit sought to eliminate the digital divide at Davidson Elementary by equipping low-income families with laptops and getting them a discounted Internet connection.
Within months, E3D raised the necessary $15,000, identified fifty qualifying families at Davidson Elementary, and distributed and installed laptops in these families’ homes. Once it became clear that the digital divide could be systematically eliminated, the non-profit broadened its scope and changed its name to E2D—Eliminate the Digital Divide. To date, E2D has eliminated the digital divide for over 1,000 families in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. What’s more, E2D empowers client-partners. E2D does not merely give away laptops, but charges families $40 upfront and $10 every other month for a year for the computer and digital Internet access via a partnership with a local digital broadband provider. After a year, the laptop is theirs and the families only have to pay for discounted broadband access. In this way, we impress upon our client-partners the value of computer technology, while also challenging them to take control of their futures.
E2D’s success relies upon extensive support from the community. In August 2013, Lowes made a transformational donation of 500 laptops and continues to supply E2D with decommissioned technology each month. Other businesses in and around the Charlotte metro area are getting on board. Ally Bank and MetLife have both supported E2D in recent days with additional donations of technology devices. University City Partners continues to provide E2D support in many areas.
Where we are headed:
As satisfying as it is to say that E2D has closed the digital gap for 1,000 CMS families, we realize that we have just scratched the surface of eliminating the entire digital divide for all neighbors in Mecklenburg County. Thus, E2D’s work continues. It is our goal at E2D to expand and provide access to technology for all students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, while simultaneously evaluating and improving current and future practices.
Why you should help:
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Ben Franklin
Eliminating the digital divide is responsible.
E2D plans to transform the landscape of classroom education. United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan believes that “in a knowledge-based, global economy, the need to close…opportunity gaps and strengthen our competitiveness is one of the most urgent challenges facing our nation. To continue to fall behind would hurt our country economically for generations to come.” By equipping all students with computer technology and digital literacy training, we will raise the bar in our schools. Technology allows teachers to engage students across all levels, appeal to their students’ imaginations, and provide opportunities for increased levels of individual attention, thus facilitating a higher quality education than currently exists. Furthermore, students with at-home access to computer technology are 8.1% more likely to graduate from high school (Federal Reserve System Report, 2008).
The long-term effects of reducing the number of dropouts are astronomical. High school dropouts are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than college graduates and are 63 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point than non-dropouts (Breslow, PBS, 2012). According to a study conducted by Northeastern University in 2009, high school dropouts typically cost taxpayers an average of $292,000 per person. In 2013 CMS reported that 8,914 high school seniors graduated from its schools. They also reported a graduation rate of 81%. If we could increase rate this by just 1%, we could help 110 more students graduate, saving taxpayers an estimated $32.1 million over the course of these students’ lives. It would be fiscally irresponsible not to invest in economically disadvantaged students’ lives now, as we compound the cost of supporting them each year we ignore the digital divide.
“Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
Eliminating the digital divide is imperative.
E2D’s focus, however, goes beyond numbers; we are in the business of helping people help themselves. Our goal in providing economically disadvantaged students with computer technology is to get them to the same starting point as their non-economically disadvantaged counterparts. By simply getting them to this starting point, we improve their confidence and ability to succeed. But we challenge our client partners to go further. We can get them BEYOND the starting point by helping them excel using their new equipment and access. Hough High School Principal, Dr. Laura Rosenbach writes, “I did not anticipate…the difference it made in the students personally…When they walked out of the room…trained and ready to use their own computer, they held their heads up high and had a joyful bounce in their steps. The students were excited to share their news and immediately began to use the E2D computers for their school work.” The good this access can do is immediate and transformational in terms of opening up opportunities for students. When client-partners are beyond the starting point (i.e. excelling in school/work) they feel empowered not only to graduate, but to go to college or find high-paying jobs. We provide individuals with the tools they need to break the patterns of generational poverty. They do the rest.
“When you know better, you do better”- Maya Angelou
Eliminating the digital divide is possible.
In short, a digital divide that limits access to essential tools for economically disadvantaged students and their families exists in our community. Today, these tools–laptop computers, digital broadband, and digital literacy–are increasingly essential for students and professionals. They affect grades and test scores, increase students’ chances of graduating, and can ultimately lead to more and higher paying job opportunities. If left unresolved, the digital divide will only increase the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, but if we stand up now and commit to ending the divide, we can spark upward socioeconomic mobility in our towns, improve student performance in schools, and change the lives of hundreds of children and families for the better.
In a community as active and caring as ours, there are ample resources available to eradicate the digital divide. When the economically-able share their generosity with those in need, they start a domino effect inspiring everyone to participate. Seeing the community uniting to solve a common problem, corporations, businesses, and community organizations with abundant resources will follow suit and donate equipment as well as volunteer hours to provide many of these tools.
In today’s economy, it would be fiscally irresponsible to ignore this problem. When we invest just $100 in the education of a child from a poorer community now, we proactively decrease the chance that he or she will become a significant drain to the social system later, potentially saving thousands. More immediately, a student who receives access to this technology for the first time instantly advances to the same educational starting line as his or her peers. With technology at a student’s fingertips, there is no limit to what he or she can achieve. With the right support, this student quickly advances toward and ultimately beyond the curricular mean.
E2D is about empowering communities. It shares our community’s problems, and works with local stakeholders to think through and ultimately resolve issues like the digital divide. We emphasize the participation of the beneficiaries, yet view the involvement of the community as no less important. Your support will empower students and families to achieve, spark upward socioeconomic mobility, and break the cycle of generational poverty in our community. Together, we can change lives one laptop at a time.