Boston families earn computers

After learning about bits and bytes, working with Microsoft Corp.'s Excel and PowerPoint, and navigating the World Wide Web, 70 low-income Boston families recently graduated from a free, city-sponsored, technology program aimed at closing the digital divide.

For their efforts, the families received computers, printers, software and free Internet access for a year.

This summer's graduating class of about 150 adults and children is the third to go through the program, Technology Goes Home ( Previously, 50 families had graduated.

Mayor Thomas Menino and a consortium of community groups last year launched the initiative after Echo Tsai, chief executive officer of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based HiQ Computers, donated 1,000 computers to give to students and their families.

Steve Gag, the mayor's technology adviser, said that the city has made an effort over the past several years to provide computer and Internet access within the community and schools. But city government and community leaders realized that such access meant nothing if people didn't get computer training, he said.

The program accepts only low-income families who don't have computers at home. At least one parent and one child, from 9 to 15 years old, must take the classes together. "I think the kids are in some ways the carrot," Gag said. "Adults coming in are reluctant. I don't think they would have gotten involved with the program if it hadn't been for the kids."

Families must complete about 40 hours of training over 12 weeks. Training covers computer basics; programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint; e-mail; and Internet research and browsing. Families work on assignments throughout the period and must complete a final project.

Students who miss several classes without good excuses will be kicked out of the program. About 90 percent of the participating families are minorities and recent immigrants, he said. Sixty percent are single-parent families.

The program's most tangible measure is job performance, Gag said. About 35 percent of the adult graduates surveyed two months later said they've been promoted in their jobs or have switched to technology-related fields. Gag said the program has also fostered a sense of community, camaraderie and good family dynamics. He said people also have expressed improved self-esteem.

Graduates receive an 800 MHz HiQ desktop computer with a 10G hard drive, a monitor, a printer donated by Lexmark International Inc., Windows 2000 and Office 2000 software donated by Microsoft, and free Internet access from Verizon Communications.

The program may be expanded to offer advanced certified courses.


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