Info About Technology Goes Home

Info About Technology Goes Home

Technology Goes Home (TGH) - Overview

The partnership between the City and the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation (BDBF), initiated about seven years ago, at more or less the same time that the schools were being wired.

The BDBF was created to establish a stable and independent source of funding for technology instruction and dissemination to community residents. City provides administrative funding for administration of the program. DBF raises the funds for instruction, distribution of computers.

With the initiation of the TGH initiative in1999, the BDBF decided to target services in six under-served neighborhoods: Allston Brighton, Grove Hall, Lower Roxbury, Codman Square, Mission Hill, and Upham’s Corner/Dudley. Thusfar, 2,000 families have received training (800 in school-based programs), with an extremely high satisfaction rate. In the coming year, the program is hoping to serve 900 families.

In each neighborhood, a lead agency was identified, and another 9-10 other community-based agencies were identified to support the effort. Under the leadership of the lead agency, the partnering agencies share responsibility for outreach, recruiting participants, tailoring the training curriculum, identifying trainers, and dealing with the logistics of training and computer distribution.

At the same time, the TGH initiative targeted 50 schools (about 1/3 of all schools) where they wanted to conduct trainings and the computer distribution program.

Whether in the community or in the schools, the model was similar: small classes of 7-10 families (intergenerational: parents AND children), mandatory participation in the training program (evenings and weekends), and delivery of a computer at the end of the program. (There was initial concern about making attendance at the trainings mandatory, but it was felt that if the program set high standards, people would meet them. Experience has shown that 85% of participants complete the program. Some programs have been able to schedule makeup sessions to accommodate unavoidable absences.)
• Community programs require 40 hours of attendance, more variation in the curriculum (e.g., combining with financial literacy training), ability to offer classes in Spanish and Portuguese, more variation in the quality of the trainers
• School-based programs require 25 hours of attendance by school teachers (who already know the students, and often the family). Teachers paid by the Foundation are working off the School Dept clock, but at Union rates ($36.50/hour), etc. Initially, targeted elementary school (4th and 5th graders), added middle school and high school: 6th to 12th graders.

The different basic curricula for both school- and community-based programs are available on-line at www.digitalbridgefoundation.org. There is both community-based variation, and also age/grade-specific variation: for example, the training for families of HS-age children incorporates a discussion of the use of the Internet for choosing colleges and accessing financial assistance.

BDBF found that school-based programs are more cost-effective: costs of community-based programs range from $700-800 per family; school-based programs operate at half that cost ($350/family). There is a sense that the school-based programs are also more effective, given the skills of the teachers and their pre-existing relationships with the children and families.

At this point, given the successful fundraising that has accompanied this initiative, the ONLY limitation on number of classes is success of outreach; as soon as another 10-12 families are identified at a site, another class can be put together. Three of the communities have maintained an average of 25 families trained per year; three have trained an average of 40 families per year (total of about 200 families). The best outreach tool has been word of mouth from families that have completed the program.

One school (the Hernandez school?) made participation in the program mandatory for all 4th grade families.

The Computers:

Originally, new computers (with printers) were available to participants for free, thanks to an initial donation of 1,000 computers by the High-Q company (South Boston). For the past few years, the program was selling new Pentium 4 computers (with flat panel monitor, printer, Microsoft Office suite, Norton anti-virus, and a three-year warranty – all service provided by the High-Q company) for $800, payable over the course of 42 months in $19 installments. Thanks to underwriting by the Bank of America, payment was without downpayment, and at NO interest.

Access to computers is not dependent on whether the family is wiling or able to access the internet. However, all computers have (since recently) come with a network card.

Starting this Fall, reconditioned computers (with printers, with a one-year warranty) will be sold for $85. (The BDBF will pay the difference between the $150 cost of refurbishment and the $85 sale price.) This shift from newer, more expensive computers to reconditioned computers reflects a concern that participation was being constrained by reluctance or inability to pay the higher cost, even though it is amortized.

The High-Q company has dealt with all of the technical issues that have arisen (95% are related to viruses), although school and community-based partners have had limited availability to respond to questions from families. (The computers are all delivered to and picked up for servicing from the place where the training is offered; it is up to the family to get the computer to and from their home.) With the shift to a one year warranty, there is apprehension about the inability to address technical questions, and the BDBF is considering utilizing students and graduates in its TechBoston program (which trains young people for technology careers) to provide tech support or help desk functions.

Donated computers for the initiative come from local corporations; last year (2006), 2,000 computers were donated (1,300 to school-based programs and 700 to community-based programs). This year, the target is 3,000 donated machines. As noted above, the cost of “refreshing” those computers (done by High-Q) is about $150 per box. Not all computers are distributed to training participants; some are sold to other interested families (through the school or community-based agency hosting the training).

The Budget

This year, the BDBF plans to spend about $300,000 to operate school-based programs and another $100,000 on community-based programs. Funding has largely come from corporate donations and from the “Evening on the Bridge” fundraiser. The City only pays for a couple of administrative personnel who oversee the TGH program. In 2007, the BDBF is sponsoring the first running of the Hub-on-Wheels fundraiser which is hope will be able to fundraise up to $500,000.

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