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Georgia 4-H Student-Driven Program Shrinks Digital Divide

High school students involved with the Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers program this year worked with local governments and organizations to deliver digital literacy training to a record 5,488 adults.

A word cloud featuring the words "digital divide" and related terms.
(TNS) — Youths involved with the Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers program are bridging the digital divide and providing digital literacy education to improve work force readiness skills in adults. The 2021-22 cohort surpassed previous record impact numbers by reaching 5,488 adults during the program year.

Approximately 1.6 million adults in Georgia lack access to a high-speed Internet connection. The 4-H Tech Changemakers project uses an adult-youth partnership model to empower teens as teachers of digital literacy in areas lacking broadband Internet access.

High school 4-Hers, known as Tech Changemakers, work cooperatively with 4-H faculty, staff and adult volunteers to plan, implement and evaluate needs-driven educational programming in their local communities. These programs are designed to help adults adopt and use technology to improve their economic mobility and access opportunities.

Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers held 91 hands-on classes, workshops, and trainings led by 88 trained 4-Hers from 15 counties during the 2021-22 grant cycle. The most popular topics included responsible online behavior, email communication, online safety tips and video conference communication.

Of adult participants surveyed after Tech Changemaker events, 95 percent reported that they gained new technology skills, 96 percent said the skills they learned would impact their work and life, and 98 percent felt that the teen leaders were knowledgeable about the topics they taught.

Funding for the 2021-22 4-H Tech Changemakers grant is coordinated by the National 4-H Council and the Microsoft Corporation, with additional support from Land O'Lakes, Tractor Supply and Verizon. The grant has been renewed for its fourth year in Georgia and the 2022-23 grant program is currently underway.

The Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers program expanded from 15 counties in 2020-21 to 22 counties for 2022-23.

"We are excited to see the impacts this program continues to have within local communities, and I am encouraged by the growing interest for counties to participate in this grant," Katie Bowker, the program's coordinator, said.

Nationally, 23 land-grant institutions deliver the Tech Changemakers program, reaching 36,718 adult participants during the 2021-22 cycle. These events were facilitated by 325 4-Hers nationwide.

Catoosa County 4-H Agent Caleb Millican related the story of a participant who, struggling to find a job, was aided through a resume-building workshop.

"Even though there are websites online for resume building, many ask for money or are hard to navigate," Millican said. "Using our resume template, she was able to help make a resume that suited the job she was applying for and even secured an interview for that job."

Tech Changemakers programming has a profound impact on the student leaders in addition to the adult participants. Worth County 4-H Agent Kristen Ford has seen students' presentation and teaching abilities improve significantly.

"Teaching others about a topic can be nerve-wracking, but this program gives students a chance to practice these skills," Ford said. "Having adults who are excited about youth teaching has helped 4-Hers gain confidence."

The program facilitates 4-H partnerships with city and county governments, school systems, and community organizations.

"As broadband expands into rural areas, having community members ready to adopt and use these technologies is so important," Kasey Bozeman, extension 4-H specialist for science programs, said. "Our digital-native 4-H Tech Changemakers are creating a path that leads to an overall digital transformation throughout our state."

©2022 The Albany Herald, Ga. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.