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Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools program bridges internet gap

Kerry Sherrill, Carrboro Elementary School’s social worker, remembers one of her third-graders jumping up and down with glee in January after receiving a computer to use at home.

He wasn’t excited about playing video games or watching movies, she said. He wanted to use the math software that is popular at Carrboro Elementary School, IXL.

“He saw the computer and literally started jumping up and down and said, ‘I can play IXL now; I can play IXL now,’” Sherrill said. “It was so touching to me that he was excited about academics.”

The student received the computer, with a free year of internet access, from a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools program called Community Connection — an initiative started in 2008 to close the achievement gap by increasing access to technology.

The program provides about 50 families in the CHCCS district with scholarships for computers and home internet access, said program manager Darren Bell.

“A lot of courses are starting to move online, a lot of tutorials and things. Without the computer at home, you’re cut short,” Bell said. “Learning in education is a 24/7 process nowadays.”

Janice Anderson, an assistant professor of science education in the UNC School of Education, said technology allows students to visualize what they’re learning, especially in topics like science.

“You don’t just use the technology because it’s there,” Anderson said. “It needs to be purposeful, and it needs to be effective.”

CHCCS spokesman Jeffrey Nash said he does not know of any areas of Orange County where internet access is unavailable, but many students still do not have access at home.

“Learning needs to take place more than just from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” Nash said.

Bell said he worked to add internet to the program last year after conducting a survey with families who had received computers.

“Basically, what we were doing was providing families with doorstops and paperweights because the computers were not connected to the internet,” Bell said.

Bell said the main issue is often the cost of internet access.

“A lot of families cannot afford $500 to $1,000 a year for internet access,” Bell said.

Bell also said Time Warner Cable provides internet access at an annual discounted rate of $120 for families in the Community Connection program.

Teachers nominate families for scholarships by sending a list of students without computers to the school social worker, Sherrill said.

Scholarship allocation is based on interest and academic potential, as well as free and reduced lunch status and income.

Chosen families attend a workshop where they learn how to use the computers, and the computers are given to families on a distribution day event — this year, it took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Carrboro resident Katrina Solomon’s family received a scholarship this year.

Solomon, whose children attend McDougle Middle School and Carrboro Elementary School, said her family previously traveled to an aunt’s house to use the internet.

“It did affect their grades — the older ones more than the little ones,” Solomon said.

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“They weren’t getting full credit for completing homework because it wasn’t complete.”

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