Of 120 sixth-graders that Jermaine Elliott taught this year, about 100 of them didn’t know how to use a smart board.
When Elliott, a new EdTech fellow, chose to use one of the computer labs at the West campus of Bluford Drew Jemison S.T.E.M. Academy on Edgewood St. in West Baltimore, he spent ample time demonstrating how to use Internet software.
“That posed a very big challenge for a lot of different things,” says Elliott. “It becomes problematic in thinking about expectations. … Some of these kids lack understanding and knowledge about these types of equipment that we’re expected to use.”
Elliott, a 23-year-old language arts teacher who just completed his first year with Teach for America, is one of 10 EdTech fellows with the Federal Hill-based Digital Harbor Foundation.
Over the course of the summer, the fellows have worked eight-hour days at DHF learning about different technological skill sets they can introduce into their classrooms—social media to incorporate into lessons, for instance, or web development. During the school year, fellows will not only use these digital tools in their classrooms, but they’ll also manage after-school tech clubs, giving students in Baltimore’s public schools access to things like iPads and web design software coupled with their own mentorship and knowledge.
“My whole reason for existing centers around social justice,” says Elliott, who studied political science and leadership at the University of Minnesota. “While we’re shifting toward this technological age in education, we’re leaving a very, very large population out of that, out of those conversations, out of that movement.”
But Elliott came to be one of the first class of EdTech fellows in a circuitous way. In the middle of his senior year of college, he applied to Teach for America, ranking Baltimore City his number one destination out of 35 total locations.
“What struck me was the … challenges black men face, specifically at the middle school level,” said Elliott, who is black. “I saw it as a challenge. That’s what drove my decision to come to Baltimore and teach middle school.”
He landed at Bluford Drew Jemison S.T.E.M. Academy West, an all-boys’ public charter school that opened in fall 2007. In the spring, he spotted a notice about applying to be an EdTech fellow in one of his monthly newsletters from TFA, with which DHF has a connection. (Co-executive director Andrew Coy is a former TFA teacher.) Elliott was one of 30 people who applied to be a fellow.
“I felt very passionate about connecting Baltimore City teachers with technology,” he says. “[I’m] excited to be able to learn and acquire these skills but also to pass it on. It’s not something I want to keep for myself.”
Elliott’s one-year term as a fellow began with a trip to the International Society for Education in Technology Conference in late June, where he heard an idea that has characterized his experience thus far with DHF.
“Technology in general isn’t just about fancy equipment that you can use in your classroom,” Elliott says. “Tech is a mindset. It’s your perspective about how you view access to information and the devices that you use to access those different types and forms of information as well.”
In the fall, he’ll begin running an after-school tech club at Bluford Drew Jemison. “This is going to be access to information, resources and equipment [the students have] never seen before,” says Elliott.