I noticed a trend several years ago. A sixth-grader tagged along with me into the school. She wanted to use a computer. “My printer is broken,” she explained. “Can I come in with you and print my assignment?” A few days later, it happened again. Only this time, another student needed to edit an essay on a word-processor.
As more children asked to use the lab before school—sometimes several per day—I began arriving 20 minutes early to open the lab. I let students know that it was available for them. Now years later, students still sign in to the computer lab nearly every day. Sometimes it’s as few as five students, often it’s 15 or 20. What they all needed then, and still need today, is access to reliable technology tools. The early-morning computer time is busy and focused as children attend to schoolwork and use digital resources that help them learn.
I’ve realized that at least some of these children are victims of the digital divide. Students at schools everywhere, mine included, experience homework-related technology difficulties because they do not have robust computers at home. In fact, there are still children who do not own one. I do not ask them why students use the morning computer program, but in conversation, one may mention a broken printer. Another might describe how a computer stopped working just before a homework assignment was finished. At other times, an assignment requires a student to complete research on a library database, but Internet access at home is not fast or dependable enough to complete the job.
Most of us take ubiquitous digital access and technology tools for granted. We search on the Web, freely print copies and quickly type letters, lesson plans or assignments. Yet hardship and poverty exist in places we may not notice. We cannot forget about families without the means to purchase speedy Internet access, four-color toner cartridges or state-of-the-art computing. Encouraging extra access at school may make a significant difference in the quality of a child’s work.
At our school, any student in fourth through eighth grade is welcome to drop in to our early-morning computer sessions. Online research opportunities and printing are available as needed. Students can also ask for assistance or use digital learning tools such as Google Earth or MIT’s Scratch programming. A group of regular attendees arrives each morning. Other children work on specific projects for a few days and may not return for a while. No one is singled out, and no explanations are required to sign in to the lab.
Our morning computer program is a small step, one that helps to increase access, ensures equity and builds connections that can help to bridge the digital divide.
Weston is a middle school technology teacher in Washington, D.C.