In my house, an internet outage might as well be a power outage. Everything grinds to a halt. My teenagers can’t stream Netflix. I can’t surf Facebook. My son can’t do his homework.
Wait. What? Homework? Yes.
Now imagine that you are without internet entirely. You don’t have a home computer. And even if you did, you wouldn’t know what do with it. Scary as that may sound, it’s the reality for many in Charlotte.
A digital divide exists right here in our community. Students and families are without necessary tools that will help them succeed in and out of the classroom.
That’s where teachers like Kevin Poirier come in. Poirier, technology facilitator at West Charlotte High School and a Teaching Fellows Institute alumni, is making a difference working with organizations like Eliminate the Digital Divide (E2D) and Teaching Fellows Institute to get all students at his school what they need.
In 2014, Poirier was teaching science at West Charlotte and took part in a TFI workshop.
In response to requests from TFI alumni for training to bring STEAM and 21st-century skills into the classroom, the Institute offered training in the use of 3D Printing Technologies and coding of the Raspberry Pi 3 computer.
“Poirier participated in both training experiences and really ran with the knowledge and hardware he left with at the close of each training,” TFI Executive Director Barbara Caldwell said.
Last fall, Poirier and West Charlotte High School received a $46,401 grant from the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.
“The grant went to purchase a lot of the items and resources that a really impactful and effective Information Technology (IT Academy) should have,” Poirier said. “It purchased 3D printers, Drones, Sphero robots, Makey-Makey's, iMacs, Cubelet Robots, Ozobot robotics, Raspberry Pis - some really awesome products that make computer science and coding come to life for students and allows them to apply a lot of their conceptual knowledge and make it come alive. The grant went to creating a specific space on campus for this purpose, with these resources, so that our Information Technology and Graphic and Digital Design pathways have all the resources they need to be successful.”
E2D operates a lab at West Charlotte High School providing low-cost laptops to students and families.
“I really think of the digital divide as a three-legged stool: devices, connectivity, and digital literacy,” Poirier said. “E2D helps solve the devices portion of that equation by providing laptops to students and families for $60. By opening up a lab that serves the community right on the campus of West Charlotte, staffed by students at West Charlotte - we are part of that solution.”
What can we — those of us not worrying about how we access technology -- do to help Poirier, TFI and E2D?
“One thing that everyone can do to help bridge the digital divide is get their company, their neighbor's company, and anyone else's company to donate laptops to E2D,” Poirier said. “For-profit corporations refresh their employee laptops often and these laptops can be recycled, refurbished, and put back into the digital ecosystem that can help ensure that every single student has their very own laptop at home to complete college applications, jobs, student aid (FAFSA), and their schoolwork. Digital equity is incredibly important. The more laptops E2D gets, the closer we get to solving the digital divide and ensuring every student has their very own laptop to work on.”
TFI has many Alumni Fellows teaching at West Charlotte High School. In fact, West Charlotte Principal, Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones is a TFI Fellow. After attending TFI's December 2017 program on Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Dr. Barnes-Jones, Poirier and other TFI Fellows at West Charlotte set about to immediately bring the learning to the West Charlotte community.