The Opportunity Gap

Real-world perspective from the founder of a purpose-driven group of innovators.

GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Coy

CREDIT Digital Harbor FoundationThe achievement gap is a well-known problem in schools today. When I started teaching social students at Digital Harbor High School, I found we don’t have an achievement gap; what we really have is an opportunity gap. At this technology-focused school in Baltimore, Maryland, I saw firsthand how my students, many from low-income families, lacked opportunities.

Not having Internet at home is like giving students pens and books at school, but then taking them away when the final bell rings.

To give my students a unique opportunity while preparing them for the future, I founded an after-school club where I taught basic web development to students, with the goal of connecting inner-city youth to paying client organizations that needed simple, brochure-style websites. My students worked very hard while learning not only about technology and web development, but about business, team-work, and client relationships. More than anything it showed them they could achieve just as much, if not more, when given the right opportunities.

When the city announced it would be shutting down the South Baltimore Rec Center, that happened to be just a few blocks from Digital Harbor High School, I saw the potential to give these students and others like them real-world opportunities on a broader scale. In less than a year, we launched the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) Tech Center, an informal learning space where we teach youth the most up-to-date technology. We now work with more than 400 students outside of school, fostering innovation through 3-D design and printing, app creation, game and web development, engineering, and more.

Recently the DHF team participated in a special event with Comcast at the Digital Harbor Foundation alongside Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and other officials and partners. Students from Digital Harbor High School and Liberty Elementary School got to explore technology projects created by DHF youth and heard from industry and community leaders. Comcast made significant commitments to DHF programs through its broadband adoption initiative, Internet Essentials, which provides low-cost home Internet service, the option to purchase discounted computer equipment and free digital literacy training to eligible families. The company awarded 55 computers and six months of complimentary Internet Essentials services to students attending the event from Digital Harbor High School and Liberty Elementary School. Since 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than 350,000 families, or 1.4 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home.

We believe technology is the key for youth be successful in today’s world. Not having Internet at home is like giving students pens and books at school, but then taking them away when the final bell rings. Youth need access to both technology and tech education to overcome the digital divide. I’m grateful to Comcast for their commitment to support DHF’s mission of fostering innovation, tech advancement, and entrepreneurship in youth. This work is incredibly important to the economic vitality of Baltimore City, the state of Maryland, and the United States. The digital skills gained through our maker activities and tech workforce readiness at our Tech Center, combined with Internet access in their homes, will prepare youth for success in their education now and in their future careers. We are excited to partner with Comcast’s Internet Essentials, and to provide real opportunities to more families in Baltimore.

Internet Essentials and DHF are working together to level the playing field for low-income children. Internet Essentials connects families to the Internet at home, while DHF connects students to a pathway into a future tech career. I invite you to join our efforts and do what you can to help end the opportunity gap facing far too many of our students today.

Andrew Coy is Executive Director of Digital Harbor Foundation. Educator, technologist, mentor and entrepreneur, Andrew is interested in bridging the gap between education and technology. He is passionate about educational equality and dedicated to reinventing education to empower students to take their place in the 21st-century digital workplace. Contact him through Twitter @DHFBaltimore

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