By DAVID BORAKS
If you’re a regular user of the web, Facebook, email or your smartphone, you know how much a part of our lives electronic devices have become. But that’s not all of us: Imagine not having an internet device at home. The problem is especially acute for school kids, for whom the technology gap can be measured in lagging performance on end-of-grade tests.
Davidson residents and community leaders have been thinking about this lately, and they’ve come up with a solution they’re calling E3D – for Eliminate Davidson’s Digital Divide. The idea has blossomed into a community wide effort to help kids at Davidson Elementary School, and eventually schools in Cornelius as well.
Franny Millen, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Bailey Middle School, got the ball rolling, observing that some kids lacked basics at home, including computers. She and parents Pat Millen and Eileen Keeley and brother Paddy ran with the thought. They decided to find out what it would take to put computers in the hands of children at Davidson Elementary School whose families can’t afford them.
Now Davidson Elementary doesn’t spring to mind as a technology-deprived zone, nor does it lag in end-of-grade (EOG) testing. In fact, more than 95 percent of students pass their EOGs, according to state statistics.
But among those from economically disadvantaged families, many of whom may not have computers at home, only 59 percent pass the tests, according to Pat Millen, a sports marketer and internet entrepreneur.
When Mr. Millen approached leaders at Davidson Elementary, they immediately knew the size of the problem that E3D is hoping to solve.
It’s about 50 students, according to Principal Dana Jarrett.
“Email and electronic communication have become such a way to go,” Mr. Jarrett said in an interview. Every teacher at the school knows which families are on the other side of the technology divide, from observing students and communicating with parents.
“We want to close the achievement gap for all of our families,” Mr. Jarrett said. “Sometimes (it’s) the economics … they do tend to be the less fortunate, and don’t do as well because they don’t have the resources.”
It’s not just computers. Resources can extend to items as simple as a poster board for a class presentation, Mr. Millen said.
“The problem is more often now than ever, teachers are requiring work, or creating work for which a computer is required,” Mr. Millen said.
So E3D is in the midst of raising an initial $15,000 to buy 50 computers for the 50 Davidson elementary students that teachers have identified. They’re also working out a deal with MI-Connection Communications System to provide free or reduced-cost internet access, and another deal with Davidson College to enlist students to provide technical support. The computers will arrive in July, Mr. Millen said, so families and students will be ready for the new school year in August.
The Millens also have partnered with the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson, which has brought the E3D project under its nonprofit umbrella for the time being.
The project has grown from a family idea into a full-fledged organization with key commuity leaders, including Ada Jenkins Center director Georgia Krueger, former Davidson Commissioner Margo Williams, former Davidson College President John Kuykendall and his wife Missy, other college leaders, retired Habitat for Humanity International leader Paul Leonard of Davidson, and representatives from Davidson Elementary and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Town officials also have lent their support, helping to spread the word.
“I think it’s a great Davidson initiative. It’s typical of a lot of our nonprofit organizations,” said Mayor John Woods. “A citizen recognizes a need, gathers a group of people to solve that need, and before you know it you’ve got an enduring, stable, ongoing organization to do it.”
E3D may not quite be there yet, but it’s on its way. The group already has begun accepting donations as it tries to raise money for the first phase of the project. Mr. Millen said he also hopes the group eventually can raise more than $100,000, which would be enough to expansion the initiative to other schools in the area and students with similar needs. That could include Cornelius and J.V. Washam Elementary, Bailey Middle and Hough High schools, all in Cornelius.
And E3D’s goal isn’t just to raise money and buy a bunch of computers. It’s to create a long-term solution that would include regular computer help sessions at Ada Jenkins Center.
Said Mr. Millen: “We want this to be a community initiative where the community understands the situation and ultimately desires to be a part of the solution.”
“More than anything,” he said, “this is going to transform the lives of kids and their families.”
WANT TO HELP?
To make a donations to E3D – Eliminate Davidson’s Digital Divide: Make checks payable to Ada Jenkins Center, and write E3D on the memo line. Mail to E3D ? Pat Millen, PO Box 1064, Davidson, NC 28036. For more information about the project, contact Mr. Millen at firstname.lastname@example.org.