Bridging The Digital Divide: Youth And Technology
By Oscar Bautista
“Technology is changing the world and it’s not going away,” says Dr. Martha Molina Bernadett, Founder of the Molina Foundation, “and there are those who have exposure to technology and those who don’t.”
Through her work with the foundation, Dr. Bernadett works to reduce disparities in access to education and health, witnessing firsthand the importance of technology in childhood education.
“We know that when it comes to low income populations about 60 percent have smart phones, it’s their lifeline,” said Dr. Bernadett, “That means that 40 percent don’t.”
The Molina Foundation is not alone in this drive to bridge the digital divide.
The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) and nonprofits across the city are working to ensure access to technology for our youth so they create, they express themselves as young innovators and most importantly, they compete.
“Within the school day, there is no digital divide,” said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, “there is total equity and access across the board.”
According to Steinhauser, LBUSD students have access to a massive number of technology tools. Along with computer labs, LBUSD provides its students with full access to these tools for academic aid.
“We’ve purchased over 4,500 new computers two years ago, many of our schools have multiple labs,” said Steinhauser, “and those labs are open to students and parents after school.”
The push to invest in tech was a response to a survey given to parents of students in LBSUD, says Steinhauser, in particular from parents in lower income communities.
While LBUSD schools may be providing in-school resources, there are still gaps outside of school. Resources like cameras, access to databases, and career search tools are expensive tools beyond reach by many low-income communities.
This is where the Long Beach Public Library steps in.
In recent years, the Long Beach Public Library has become a hub of new tech that students can access free of charge. From the Family Learning Centers and the Studio at the Main, libraries are moving forward to help everyone access the tools they need to reach their goals.
“When visitors come into the Family Learning Center, they have access to all the technology and databases for free, where elsewhere, they would have to pay,” explains Sara Myers, Executive Director for the Long Beach Public Library Foundation.
“Many students do not have access to computers at home,” said Myers. “We created the opportunity for families to have access to the tools they need for homework, English language assistance, and career resources.”
The Main Library downtown is also home to The Studio, which houses 3D printers, 4D applications, robotics, lego kits, and other creative applications. It’s become an important resource for students looking for creative tools and local entrepreneurs looking to utilize this new tech.
“Our Studio has become a unique Maker Space…offering everything someone needs to create films, music, graphics, video games and robots. It also offers a video production studio,” said Myers, “Long Beach Community Action Partnership (LBCAP) has partnered with us to create an annex for its Public Access Digital Network (PADNET) because it’s easy for the public to check out film equipment.”
In addition to its work with the Public Library, LBCAP runs a mentoring program where students can learn creative ways to utilize technology. The Leadership Academy Mentoring Program (L.A.M.P.) gives students from low-income communities the opportunity to work with tools that may not be available in their schools or at home. This includes hands on experience in graphic arts, photography, music production, and video production.
“LAMP was created around the premise that we expose youth to digital media arts,” says LBCAP Executive Director Darick Simpson, “We try to teach what it means to be a leader, so [students] will know how to function in a professional environment, be responsible, and learn proper etiquette”.
Simpson believes this will give the students a chance to be a part of something that they might want to continue into the future.
“What I always tell these students is that the best way to predict the future is to create the future,” said Simpson.
According to Bob Cabeza, founder of the YMCA Youth Institute in Long Beach, these technology tools are essential for youth to understand the adult world they are moving towards.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is technology is a game changer,” said Cabeza.
Cabeza and his staff train students at the Youth Institute with the tools and skills necessary to survive in a tech-dominated world.
“It’s really important to connect all the dots,” said Cabeza, “You can’t write a research paper, make a movie…without technology.”
Cabeza believes that today’s youth see tech as a natural part of life.
“Youth are intuitive with technology…by not engaging them, you’re disengaging those who already have a love of tech,” said Cabeza.
Cabeza wants to make sure the Institute’s youth have an opportunity to innovate new technologies themselves.
“There’s going to be another Steve Jobs,” said Cabeza, “We need to ensure that hopefully there will be a Latino Steve Jobs or a Black Steve Jobs or a ‘Stephanie’ Jobs.”