Student Volunteers Contribute Tech Savvy Effort to Eliminate the Local Digital Divide
A seventh grade girl's recognition that some students in her school suffered educational inequality for lack of a computer in their homes has become a small town success story in elimination of its "Digital Divide."
Young Franny Millen's dream of providing networked home computers for all Davidson families who couldn't afford them gave rise to a civic philanthropy named "E2D." Operating since February, E2D has created partnerships with the Town of Davidson, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, local businesses and foundations, the Ada Jenkins Community Center and Davidson College to provide computers, bandwidth and technical training to all families in town who lack fundamental computer access.
Franny Millen said that even in elementary school there is an expectation that students use computers. Her teachers asked for essays typed and double spaced, and assigned reading and research online. Franny said some of her classmates noted that local public libraries provide free access to computers, but Franny contends that's not enough. She said, "The access has to be easier than that. It's about fairness and making the playing field even for everyone."
Representatives of the town's education, corporate, government, and social service communities came together Wednesday, August 21, to celebrate the success of their effort so far. The event included an announcement that Lowe's Companies is donating 500 computers to E2D.
Mark Sample, Davidson College's new Director of Digital Studies, emphasized that, "The digital divide is real." He continued, " And it's a reality that's right here in our own community. E2D is an inspiring model for addressing it, and I hope other communities follow this example."
Beginning with the goal of helping 50 families at Davidson Elementary School, E2D has now acquired more than 750 computers and $40,000. The scope of support for the effort is allowing E2D to expand its operations to include other public schools in the northern area of Mecklenburg County, and to declare an intention to eliminate the digital divide for families in need of the technology throughout Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
Davidson alumnus Pat Millen ‘86, an E2D founder with his spouse, alumna Eileen Keeley ‘89, explained, "Because so many wonderful people are helping and buying into the logic that there can be no social justice while some of our neighbors remain on the wrong side of the digital divide, the E2D plans are exploding to new size and scale."
E2D has received assistance from its founding last February from Davidson College students working through the Center for Civic Engagement. They have helped organize the effort, and will be providing initial training and ongoing technical support to client families. The students returning early to help train the first families are Chaney Barnes '16, Lindsay Grier '16, Ting Han '16, Sarah Hay '14, Caitlin James '14, Joscar Matos '16, Linnea Ng '15 and Elizabeth Welliver '16.
Davidson student Kathryn Kemp '15, a Presidential Scholar, has spent the summer as a Campus Engagement Fellow in the Center for Civic Engagement. Her project involved qualifying families to receive E2D computers, and lining up nine of her fellow Davidson students to provide instruction to clients. "As a student at an institution where everyone takes computer skills for granted, this experience has been a real eye-opener," said Kemp. "I never had directly seen the impact that not having access could have on a person's life. We like to say that everyone has a right to a good education, but in this day and time that means everyone should have rights to a computer as well."
Her fellow Davidson student and E2D board member Emily Rapport '16, a Belk Scholar, also spent part of her summer helping organizing the college's effort. "It combines my interests in technology and social justice," Rapport said. "I had never thought of computer access as being a social justice issue, but in working with applicants I've come to understand that."
In addition to donation of 500 computers from Lowe's Companies, E2D has garnered financial support from throughout the community. Youth volunteers established a roadside lemonade stand initiative during the summer that raised $3,200. Cash donations also came from the Peninsula Community Foundation, the Davidson Community endowment Fund, The Rotary Club of Davidson, and local churches.
Members of the Class of 2017 have been invited to donate to the project in accordance with their Orientation Service Walk around town on Saturday. All new students were encouraged to fundraise for the effort, and/or to donate used laptop computers.
The homes of recipients are being wired at no cost by the local cable and Internet provider, MI-Connection. That company is also providing clients with a free first year of Internet connectivity. Thereafter, they will receive a discount on service.