In the month after the riots and unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral, Ericka Alston created a space for kids near Penn and North called the Kids Safe Zone.
Alston said she relied on donations to outfit the space with flat-screen TVs, video games — there’s even some old-fashioned books and games.
Last week, Alston took 30 laptops back to the space. The laptops were just a fraction of the 1,000 computers donated to educators and community organizations — a major effort arranged by members of the tech community and the OneBaltimore campaign. The intiative is called “A Connected City.”
“We take for granted that every child has access to a computer. Our kids are at home doing homework on mom’s cellphone,” Alston told city leaders and educators gathered to dole out the laptops at the Digital Harbor Foundation’s Tech Center. “Before this partnership happened we had 50 kids sharing five laptops — not new laptops.”
Along with providing access for schoolwork and exploration, Alston plans to implement programs that teach the kids to code.
“There is so much opportunity for educational and professional advancement and it starts with engaging our youth to the world of technology,” said Lance Lucas, founder of Digit All Systems and one of the key organizers of the donation effort. “This project is the perfect example of the tech community coming together to support Baltimore’s kids.”
The Dell laptops were provided by the federal government’s Computers for Learning program, and Microsoft donated software.
The donation marked one of the first visible efforts of the OneBaltimore campaign, which was established following the unrest to bring public and private organizations together to improve the city.
— B'more City Health (@BMore_Healthy) September 23, 2015
Along with Digit All Systems and Digital Harbor Foundation, Code in the Schools and Betamore were also part of the effort from the tech community. Representatives from each organization told the educators about their programs before the computers were turned over.
The computers went to a total of 40 schools and organizations. In at least one case, the laptops won’t only be for kids.
Westside Elementary, a community school located in Sandtown-Winchester, has some computers, but most are used for testing.
“We have a computer lab. It’s really set up for testing, so these will allow us to have an area where kids can come and work on computers other than testing,” said teacher Sharon Wheaden-West.
Along with helping kids, Community School Coordinator Larry Simmons said the laptops will be set aside for parents who are often fairly young, and still looking for jobs. The computers will allow the adults to get access to the internet where they might only have it on their phone, which could help them look for jobs and write resumes.
“Because we’re a community school also, we want to provide as much as we can for the entire family. So this worked out big time for us,” Simmons said.
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