Davidson-based nonprofit E2D (Eliminate the Digital Divide) and the Town of Davidson have made big strides in closing the gap between our area’s technology haves and have-nots. On Thursday, Nov. 5, in Nashville, the program that gives computers and training to families in need in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools was honored as the “most innovative” in a national awards program.
The award came at the National League of Cities Congress of Cities, where E2D founder Pat Millen, board member Lisa Combs and Davidson Mayor John Woods were there to receive it.
E2D and Davidson were among six winners of the first Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards, presented by Next Century Cities, the National League of Cities, and Google Fiber. The awards were created to recognize local governments that are creating or supporting community organizations working to eliminate barriers to Internet adoption. (Other winners were all major cities – Philadelphia, Seattle, Austin, Chattanooga and Washington, DC.)
“Davidson is always seeking ways to help our citizens achieve the highest standard of living available to them. E2D has been essential to our community’s response to the digital divide, and we know that our school students are profiting from the E2D program every day,” Mayor Woods said in a press release.
E2D was one of two national Digital Inclusion Best Practices winners, recognized as the nation’s “Most Innovative Program.”
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THREE YEARS
E2D was founded in Davidson three years ago, after Bailey Middle School seventh grader, Franny Millen (Pat’s daughter) observed that many kids in her school didn’t have computers at home. They were at a big disadvantage, she realized, because many class assignments required computers.
“This isn’t fair. What are we going to do about it?” she said, according to Pat Millen.
The family – Pat and Franny, brother Paddy and mother Eileen Keeley – formed a the nonprofit organization – initially called End Davidson’s Digital Divide, or E3D – and began working with other nonprofits and public schools. The Town of Davidson supported the program, as did the Ada Jenkins Center, a community social services center on Davidson’s west side. Davidson College students were among the group’s first volunteers.
E2D also got grants and donations from local corporations, and began distributing computers to families in need.
Initially, E2D gave computers to 100 percent of the families in need at Davidson Elementary School. Since then, the program has expanded to all public elementary, middle and high schools in north Mecklenburg and this year began distributions in Charlotte. In September, the group gave out computers and offered training for students at five Charlotte high schools – West Charlotte, Garringer, West Meck, Harding, Vance.
As of this month, the program has helped more than 800 families at 18 different schools.
“I think today’s award really acknowledges what an incredible town Davidson is,” Pat Millen said in the press release. “The recipe for E2D’s success is in the plurality of partners that have joined in these solutions – from the generosity of big companies like Lowe’s to the bee-hive hustling of hundreds of elementary school children raising money for us with lemonade stands in front of their houses.”
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
A 2012 survey found that about 18 to 19 percent of homes in the Charlotte area lack internet access, slightly higher than the national average, according to Bruce Clark, Charlotte Digital Inclusion Manager. (He cited that statistic in an interview on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” on Oct. 19. )
Mecklenburg County is at the bottom of the list of large urban counties nationwide when it comes to economic opportunity and upward mobility. In other words, it’s harder here in the Charlotte area than almost anywhere for people who group up poor to escape poverty.
One the key elements is education, and advocates say kids without access to computers and the internet can’t hope to climb up.
It’s not just about the kids keeping up with peers on homework. Putting computers and internet connections in students homes means parents now can send emails to their children’s teachers and use Powerschool, the school district’s online grade and progress tracking system.
E2D was featured on WFAE-FM’s “Charlotte Talks” Monday, Nov. 9, in a program that included Pat Millen and CMS school officials. More information and an audio replay here: http://wfae.org/post/closing-student-technology-gap-home