I had the pleasure of spending last Saturday morning at a Family Learning Workshop at Clyde Fischer Middle School in San Jose.  This workshop was for low income families with sixth graders to receive digital literacy and PC training and a special gift — a free refurbished computer.

With Emily Simas, the California Executive Director of Computers For Youth (http://www.cfy.org/), I visited four  classrooms full of eager sixth graders and their apprehensive parents (primarily Hispanic and Asian for this school) who were learning either in English or in Spanish how to hook up and operate a computer.  Then they learned how to access 40 age appropriate educational software programs preloaded on the computer.  Then they were taught how to access www.myhomelearning.com, an online portal for dozens more  interactive educational programs for ages K-12.  It was great to see the students and parents playing together with the “World of Goo” physics-based puzzle game, and “Slinky Ball”, an interactive experiment game also teaching physics concepts for middle schoolers.

The families then watched a 3-1/2 minute video on Internet Safety called “Rules of the Road for Digital Kids” and then discussed why it was important to be careful where you go on the Internet.  Many specific tips were given, including keeping your password secret, avoiding sexting and cyberbullying, thinking first before posting, and maintaining a healthy balance between the computer and other activities.  Parents in turn agree to recognize that media is part of the child’s life, agreeing to discuss worries about this world with the child before saying “no,” and making an effort to understand the media world of Facebook, Twitter and texting.  I thought this short video told by kids and produced by Common Sense Media was effective. You can find it on YouTube here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd520wZZGDE

The parents commit to spend at least an hour per week with their children using the computer.  In turn the child pledges to “being patient” and helping his or her parent with the computer for an hour a week.  In this way, the child becomes the digital trainer of the parent and other siblings, and the parent becomes more comfortable with the child’s activities online and has new access to the Internet and the wealth of information and opportunity it may bring the family.  By this I mean the ability to obtain important information online, like health information, governmental services, and job opportunities, not to mention the ability to communicate with loved ones who live far away.

After a half day of training, the families went home — all smiles — with their first computer.  What a great moment that is to watch!  The family is responsible for the costs of its own connection to the Internet at home.   That Internet service connection is a cost that ranges from $15-20 a month from the local phone company or cable company.   Bilingual phone support 24/7 is provided to the family by  Computers For Youth for three years after the family receives the computer.

I was very encouraged and inspired by the Family Learning Workshop.  We have many tech literacy programs going on in our State, focusing on our “least connected” communities — low income, non English speaking, seniors and people with disabilities.  Watching the work being done there makes me realize how important this is to our children’s futures.  School programs like this one benefit the rest of the family that is impacted by the new presence of a computer in their homes.  We are bridging the Digital Divide, one family at a time, here in the Golden State.

Computers for Youth