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Bridging the Digital Divide

Students learn skills, gain new computers.

Twelve 6th-graders received certificates of completion and their own personal computer at a ceremony on May 2.

The students, who now attend George Washington Middle School, participated in the 16-week program last year as fifth-graders at Mount Vernon Community School. The after-school program was sponsored by the Community Foundation of Alexandria.

“We wanted to find a way to help disadvantaged students bridge the digital divide that separates many of them from other students who have access to computers at home,” said Ralph Thompson, the chairman of the Foundation’s board of directors. “To make sure that the class was in line with the Virginia Standards of Learning, we hired a teacher from the school to teach the classes.”

The students learned keyboard skills, word processing and other basic aspects of computer use. “We are very grateful to the Foundation for their support,” said Dr. Lulu Lopez, Mount Vernon’s principal. “It gave these students an opportunity to have more time on the computer that they would not have had.”

Joshua Coleman is one of the students who received his certificate and his personal computer. “I am very excited,” Joshua said. “I will use my computer for my homework and to play games.”

Richie Saldivar also got a computer. “This is going to be my first computer,” Richie said. “I’m going to share with my brothers and use it to do homework and go on the Internet.”

Richie’s mother was skeptical when she first learned that her son was going to receive a computer. “When Richie got the letter, he told me that we were going to receive a letter, and I told him that I didn’t believe him,” said Norma Saldivar. “I am very grateful and very happy. This computer will help all three of my children – Richie, and my two sons who are at T.C. Williams. Without this help, we would not have been able to buy a computer for them. Now they can do their homework at home, and I won’t have to worry about taking them to the library or somewhere else to use a computer. I am very grateful.”

THE FOUNDATION purchased the computers to give to their first graduates. “Each computer is at least a Pentium,” Thompson explained. “We worked with a vendor and were able to purchase them at a significant discount.”

The Foundation is continuing to work with Alexandria students, currently offering after-school computer classes at T.C. Williams High School. They have partnered with Aspira, a national organization that is involved in education.

“We have applied to the Beaumont Foundation for additional computers so that we can continue to support these students,” Thompson said. “We have plans to continue working with students at T.C. Williams and to expand our program into other schools around the city.”

The Foundation would like to see a more comprehensive citywide approach to bridging the technological divide. “We believe that the city should fund a community technology center,” Thompson said. “It would be a public/private partnership with private funding and some city funding. Parents need to learn computer skills almost as much as their children need these skills. With some support from the city, we could offer this opportunity to a much wider group of people.”

For more information on the Foundation and its programs, contact Ralph Thompson at 703-998-4065.