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BTOP Projects at Work: Connecting People to Broadband, Computers, and Resources

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We recently spoke with Mark Melaspina, from Computers for Youth, a New York-based nonprofit that received BTOP funding for two separate projects based in Los Angeles and New York. His smart and inspired program is positioned to make a real difference in these communities. I'll let him share how they plan to do it.

Both of our programs represent basically an effort to engage families directly with the educational value of the Internet.  And in both cases we will be working with high poverty middle schools through a competitive selection process.  Once a school has been selected for the program, we work very closely with the school to engage the teachers as well as the parents of sixth grade families.

We actually bring the sixth grade families into the schools for intensive workshops, and provide each family with what we call a "Home Learning Center" which is a broadband-enabled desktop computer loaded with educational software that CFY has identified through software partnerships.  And we provide the family with guidance on using the computer for various types of educational purposes to help their children learn. 

We also help identify broadband enrollment opportunities for families including, where possible, discounted enrollment possibilities.  So through the two programs combined, we will be serving more than 33,000 families in both cities over the next couple of years.

This is a really exciting part of our program: we have what we call a Student Software Team which is actual middle school students who we train on software evaluation.  And we also have a set of outside advisers both kind of software experts as well as educators who participate in this process.  This is a process that has been going on now for several years. Through that process we have identified a set of what we think is really high-quality educational software in math, language arts, science, social studies, computer programming, art, and music.  I think those are all the categories. 

What we actually do on a Home Learning Center is we have what we call a "Home Learning Launch-Pad."  And the Launch-pad is basically an application that sits on the desktop.  When it opens, it displays all of the information about those software titles organized by subject including any associated resources like video or PDF documents etc. 

The process involves identifying what we consider is a valuable software for the desktop, and then working with the software publishers to obtain license rights--some of the software is open source, but some of it is fee-based. We receive donations from software companies to include their software on the computer.  So this year I believe -- and we will have this list finalized in the next two weeks-- it is going to be approximately 30 different titles which will be included on each Home Learning Center.

In addition to the software titles on the computer, we also have worked with providers of subscription-based online software.  So this past year for instance, we provided each family with a subscription to Kaplan Smart Track which is a online learning software for middle school students, as well as a subscription to DreamBox which is math software for younger kids like the younger siblings in the families.  So we are working this year on finalizing arrangements with subscription software providers as well.

I guess the final piece is that online, we also provide families, and really any family who is interested can access what we call MyHomeLearning.com which is an online site where we include information about free vetted educational resources that are appropriate for kids and their parents who want to have more resources to learn with at home.  These are games, simulations, things like that.”

For more stories chronicling BTOP grantees--both nonprofits and libraries--visit TechSoup.org's Broadband: Stories from the Field.

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