In Milwaukee Partnership, Parents and Kids Learn Together

Underpriviledged families in inner-city Milwaukee are learning computer, reading and writing skills at public technology centers. The centers are the brainchild of a partnership between Compaq Computer Corp., the city school systems and the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS).

Milwaukee's three Family Technology Resource Centers (FTRCs), which were put in place this spring, were inspired by a Georgia project that made school computer labs available for adult job training at night. "I don't know if our program is totally unique, but it is the only one that I know of that uses multimedia as the primary medium as opposed to instructors," said Mike Hughes, DHFS administrator of management and technology.

The FTRCs-located in a Milwaukee high school, a middle school and at a church-offer multimedia titles on basic literacy and PC skills. Use of the centers is not limited to welfare recipients, but the initiative is an outgrowth of the state's W-2, or Wisconsin Works, welfare replacement program.

"We saw the end of welfare as we knew it here in Wisconsin on April 1," Hughes said. "Under W-2, which emphasizes work over welfare, people are required to sign up for a job or job training. This program is totally separate from that because it is being done by the community and [the] private sectors. It is not limited to families on welfare." Along with job training skills, the mission of the FTRCs is to promote interfamily learning, where children learn skills with their parents.

DHFS brokered the partnership by approaching Compaq, a state supplier of PCs and servers. "Wisconsin and the policies that Gov. Tommy Thompson has set on welfare reform have really put the state in a leadership position," said Jim Weynand, Compaq's director of state and local government and health care markets. "When we were approached, we viewed this as a real opportunity to assist them."

Compaq donated about $50,000 and 47 computers to start the project, which includes several other companies. Also involved are ITC Learning Corp., the primary vendor for the multimedia training materials; Microsoft Corp., which is lending its Office 97 software suite, Internet Explorer browser and educational software; Lexmark International Inc., which provides printers; and Entre' PC Solutions, a local company that is staffing the centers.

The project is slated to be expanded to some non-low-income neighborhoods, Hughes said. "I don't anticipate that it will stay only in underpriviledged areas," he said. His agency is promoting statewide expansion under an initiative called Teach, which invests significant state funds to bring teachers up to speed on technology skills.

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