Plugged In, a community technology center located in East Palo Alto, California, is also an integral part of the effort to make the students more familiar with computers (for more on CTCs, see “Students Can Surf on Their Own Turf,” Techwatch, this issue). Funded by a Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) grant from the NTIA, Plugged In (www.pluggedin.org.) provides computer training on the school’s campus as well as additional computer services. TIIAP grants help fund telecommunication projects for government entities. “These students don’t learn about computers, they use them merely as tools to get about the business of learning,” states Bart Decrem, the center’s executive director. This year, Williams’ class will go to Plugged In once a week to work on various science/computer projects.
“The students are taking advantage of all the resources in the community to better their learning experience,” says Flanagan. “Of our many regional [community outreach] centers and our national program, this is the only one that I know of that has successfully brought [schools, corporation and communities] together.” .
A HIGH-FLYING HIGH SCHOOL
Access to computers is not the only problem at Ballou Senior High School in southeast Washington, D.C. “Here in the Eighth Ward, we have the lowest income per capita and the highest rate of unemploy
ment in the city,” laments Kenneth Jones, Ph.D., the principal at this predominantly African American school. Access to jobs is more pressing. These students live in the shadow of immense power and wealth, but many can’t see how they can achieve it for themselves, says Jones.
Archie Prioleau, however, had an idea that would marry students, technology and jobs to industry and education like never before. He wanted to train high school seniors to be certified network administrators, a profession that is facing a severe shortage of qualified workers. Prioleau, president of the Foundation for Educational Innovation (FEI), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, knew how to merge technology and education.
In 1996, FEI combined a $450,000 TIIAP grant with private industry contributions to prepare Roper Middle School (in northeast D.C.) for the 21st century. “In order to get a TIIAP grant, an organization must prove that it has matching funds that cover more than 50% of the cost of the program,” explains Irving. To qualify for the grant, Prioleau persuaded Bell Atlantic, Microsoft, Novell and others to supply software, hardware and telecommunications services to the Roper project. As a result, the school was completely networked and equipped with a state-of-the-art technology lab, and teachers were trained to incorporate technology into the curriculum.
Buoyed by the success of the Roper project, Prioleau presented his idea for job training to Ballou’s principal, who agreed it was an excellent concept. “We can prepare our students to walk out of these doors and land a job in the $20,000-$25,000 range instead of a dead-end job with no future,” says Jones. And there was still the issue of building a technical center on Ballou’s campus. This time there was no TIIAP grant to fall back on.