President Clinton has made access to the Information Superhighway a priority for our nation’s children with his mandate to connect every classroom in the country to the Internet by the year 2000 But what about after school, when the bulk of special projects and homework will be completed? Where do students who don’t have a household computer go? Fortunately, community technology centers (CTCs) and other free community-based Internet access points around the country are filling that void. CTCs generally provide free neighborhood-based Internet access and computer raining for children as well as adults.
Usually housed in community centers, or sometimes even housing projects, CTCs offer underprivileged students an after-school venue to explore the world while enhancing their computer skills. Most are grassroots organizations, similar to neighborhood recreation centers or the local boys or girls club, and are supported by volunteers, public grants and private donations.
Street-Level Youth Media is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that puts inner city youths in touch with the latest in multimedia technology. In addition to frequent walk-in visitors, more than 100 regular participants attend weekly sessions at one of the program’s three centers throughout Chicago. The students are taught everything from video production to Web site design. While the program doesn’t have the manpower to produce full-fledged multimedia experts, it’s enabling young people to witness the possibilities of the Information Age firsthand “We just want children to be familiar with this type of technology,” says Paul Teruel, special projects director for Street-Level.
The program began four years ago as a video production effort designed to channel children’s creative energies into something positive. The instructors encouraged inner city youth to put their thoughts into scripts and turn them into mini-movies or documentaries “With video moving into the computer age, the Internet and Web pages seemed a natural extension of what we were doing,” says Teruel. Although the program is intended for school-aged children, he admits to defining the term “youth” loosely. “We even take people in their mid-20s.”
Once registered with Street-Level, participants are usually operating a video camera or surfing the Net that day. “We are very hands-on and we like to get the youth working with computer equipment and receiving instruction as soon as possible” explains Teruel. “We give them an e-mail address and show them how they can communicate with other people via the Internet.”
Unlike CTCs, freenets are local Internet service providers that offer dial-up Internet access to local residents and public service organizations such as libraries and CTCs at no charge. Freenets serve the community at large by fostering use and understanding of technology through existing physical outlets.
The Tallahassee Free-Net in Tallahassee, Florida, serves a population of nearly 200,000. “We’re ahead of most communities,” says Hilly Levitz, president of the CTC. “You can do everything, from adopting pets to selling your car, on this network.”
For a more comprehensive list (see previous page) of CTCs that offer free computer and Internet training, visit www.ctcnet.org. For a list of freenets, check out Peter Scott’s freenet list at www.lights.com/freenet.