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Raleigh, N.C., Program Makes Teens Tech Gurus

Digital literacy program teaches teens and young adults the skills necessary to use technology and teach others in their community about it.

Teens and young adults living in Raleigh, N.C., who are interested in technology don’t have to travel far to participate in a program that teaches 21st-century skills.

Two years ago, the city launched Digital Connectors — a free program founded by the nonprofit One Economy that teaches digital literacy skills to youth between the ages of 14 and 21 who come from low-income households.

In a classroom setting, the students are taught the nuances of video conferencing, social media, word processing software and other technologies with the assistance of an instructor. The students in the program meet twice a week at one of the city’s teen centers during the length of one school year.

A main objective, Raleigh CIO Gail Roper said, is for participants to take the skills they learn during the one-year program and go back into the community to train family and friends. Upon graduating, each alumnus is expected to complete 56 hours of community service as a technology ambassador to his or her community.

Linda Jones, Digital Connectors’ program manager, said during the program’s curriculum, the students get involved with a number of technology-related community service projects, and as an end-of-year project, create public service announcement (PSA) videos on issues that affect the community.

Some students have made PSA videos on the dangers of texting while driving, while other videos have focused on teen pregnancy and depression, Jones said.

Video: A PSA created by Digital Connectors studen

Throughout the year, the students’ progress is monitored. Also, they receive help on pursuing higher education and careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Jones said. The program is formally completed with a graduation ceremony, after which each student gets a new laptop, a $500 stipend and a camera.

“You don’t want them to leave the program and not have the equipment to continue on,” Jones said.

A $78,000 Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant is funding the Digital Connectors program through June, according to the city of Raleigh’s website. Officials are making plans to get alternative funding sources to extend the program.

Corporate sponsorships are a possibility. Through a partnership with Cisco Systems, the city’s digital literacy program was able to put video-conferencing technology in the city’s teen center.

“They are beginning to have dialog with other youth,” Roper said. “They’re going to use the video-conferencing technology to bring in the global component of the program that really allows them to be able to interface with students all over the world.”

Roper said the Digital Connectors program is one component of the Raleigh Connected technology initiative, an effort to provide free Wi-Fi to the city’s downtown area and to extend free wireless Internet access to 2,000 households in low-income areas.